An Unreasonable Explanation for an Unexplainable Reason

Leave a comment

A few days ago, for just an instant, my wrist hurt for no readily apparent reason. “Ouch,” I said to myself, and looked at my wrist in search of a readily apparent reason. Of course, I didn’t find one, but by that time, my wrist had stopped hurting, and so the incident was past. A normal person would have thought nothing of the matter and probably would have entirely forgotten about it within minutes. However, I am not a normal person. I am a ridiculously weird person who also happens to be a bit of a science fiction nerd, and so I felt the need to explain this mysterious event in terms of a complex and convoluted theory.

This didn’t take much thought, because as it so happens, I already had a theory for this type of thing. In all fairness, I have to credit my sister with this theory, although her version is different than mine, and I’m not sure she entirely approves of how I’ve changed the idea that she created. Fortunately, since the biggest difference between these theories is the terminology, I can pretty much do whatever I want with my version without it having any bearing on her version.

Parallel universes

The original theory was that random and inexplicable sensations of pain occur when one’s self in a semi-parallel universe gets hurt. The problem with this idea is that there is no such thing as a semi-parallel universe because the phrase semi-parallel is meaningless and mathematically absurd. Therefore, I have proposed that such alternate universes be called perpendicular universes. They must intersect in order for physical sensations to cross from one to another, and any time things intersect, that geometrically proves that they aren’t parallel.

Perpendicular Universes

Technically, they aren’t actually perpendicular, either. Perpendicular things only intersect once, and these alternate universes apparently intersect more than once. Therefore, it is my opinion that what I call perpendicular universes are actually complexly looped and tangled, like strings of Christmas tree lights after being stored in a box for the good part of a year, or the cords of earphones that have been carried in a laptop case for the course of a long road trip.

This is an accurate metaphor for the way the multiverse works.

This is a simplified, but more accurate illustration of the relationship between the alternate universes.

Of course, this theory really gets complicated when you take into account the fact that universes are not lines. Lines are one-dimensional, and universes are nine-dimensional. (Yes, that is something that I decided myself without any basis in scientific knowledge, but I do actually have an explanation for what each of the nine dimensions is, so I’m going to stick with that number. This is science fiction we’re talking about here, not real science, and the two have almost no relation to each other.) For the sake of my diagrams, though, we’re just going to pretend that universes are only one-dimensional, because I have no idea how to visually represent something in nine dimensions.

So there you have it. A few days ago, my wrist hurt momentarily because my self in a not-really-perpendicular and totally-not-parallel universe probably bumped it walking into a wall or something like that. My alternate self should be more careful.

I have a disease. It’s called senioritis.

4 Comments

I looked it up on Google, and the symptoms are pretty conclusive.

I realize that this internet meme has gone out of style, but I feel a need to use it because it’s one of the few internet memes that I have liked.

It began gradually; I can’t even say exactly when I began noticing the signs. They were subtle at first. Occasionally, I would feel a sensation of anticipation or impatience when hearing other people mention their own graduation. I began experiencing slight GRE anxiety and an increased fixation on my GPA. I developed an interest and curiosity in the issue of life after graduation. (It exists, but from what I’ve heard, it’s very different from college life, and apparently it involves even more bills and responsibility and stuff like that.) Over time, the intensity of the symptoms escalated, and by the time I finished my junior year of college last May, I realized that I had developed a case of senioritis. This conclusion was verified a couple days ago, when I accidentally stayed up until about three in the morning using various internet searches to try to decide where I will live and go to church if I am to attend the graduate school that is currently my top choice, and to find out how far the school/the apartment/the church is from various landmarks of interest.

Senioritis is a disease without a cure. Once you have it, it sticks with you until the end. (The end of college, that is) Based upon what I have heard

Ah, those carefree college days!
…Nope, not feeling the nostalgia yet.

from friends and acquaintances who have contracted senioritis and graduated before me, I understand that later symptoms include increased distortion of the perception of time, increased anxiety about the future, nostalgia about one’s stint as an undergraduate student, and, in extreme cases, moments of academic apathy due to impatience concerning graduation. Although there is no known treatment, senioritis still can be an expensive disease because those who have it are generally required to pay graduate fees in addition to tuition and other college expenses.

At this point, I am more or less in denial of my condition. I only have a year left, and clearly I am much too young and immature to move on into the afterlife. (The after-college-life, that is) Seriously, I am a little kid. Once, not long ago, I fell off a log and skinned my knee while I was trying to get a better look at a lizard. A few weeks ago, I pulled a hilarious practical joke on my sister, which I will not describe here because I don’t think she’s found out about it yet. For the last couple of weeks, I have regularly replaced meals with ice cream simply because ice cream is cooler. (Pun intended) Next time I get a package in the mail, I intend to draw on it and cut it to make a flux capacitor for my car. Clearly, this is not the behavior of a sophisticated and mature adult.

On the other hand, I don’t think I ever want to become the kind of adult who is too mature to eat excessive amounts of ice cream or to appreciate the awesomeness of having a fake flux capacitor in the car. (A real one would be even awesomer, but I don’t have the technological skills and knowledge to make a real one) As long as I’m resigned to the fact that there are a few grownup traits that I will never have, I suppose it doesn’t matter if I graduate college without acquiring them.

But I still have to get through 323 days of college, while living with my senioritis.

Statistical Stuff

Leave a comment

Three weeks ago today, I wrote this blog post in which I described an experiment that I was about to start. The first phase of the experiment was to take twenty days, and it has recently been completed. In case you didn’t see the first post about this experiment and don’t feel like reading it now, I will briefly summarize. Over the course of twenty days, I have collected sixty data points measuring how well I was able to memorize a string of twenty digits, acquired from an online random number generator. I collected these data samples three times a day (early morning, late morning, and late afternoon) and memorized the numbers using three different methods. (sitting at a desk without my hands on my face, sitting at a desk with my hands on my face, and pacing in a circle around my room)To reduce the effects of confounding variables, the time of day and the method used did not correspond. I used the online random number generator to determine the order in which I would use the three methods each day.

My scores ranged from two to twenty, but most of them were in between eleven and fifteen, and the later ones seemed to be higher on average. Apparently, my number-memorizing skills are improving. I have just now determined that the average was 13.60 and the standard deviation was 4.25. (I am very curious to know if that’s a ‘good’ score or not, but since nobody else has done an identical experiment, as far as I know, there’s no standard for comparison) For most of the last twenty days, I have been coming to the disappointing conclusion that there is no statistically significant difference between the three different methods, but I was still curious about what I would find when I added up the scores and did the math.

At first, it looked promising. The averages for the three different methods were 12.68, 14.10, and 13.24, which seems to be different enough to actually mean something. Out of curiosity, I also calculated the individual averages for the three different times of day and got 14.95, 14.48, and 11.23 respectively, which verifies my assumption that I tend to kind of be a morning person. But since I already knew that, the data that I was really looking at was the difference between the three memorization methods.  At that point in my statistical analysis, I thought I had actually discovered something interesting.

Unfortunately, the thing with the standard deviation messed that up. 4.25 is a pretty large standard deviation for something with a 20-point scale. The definition of ‘statistically significant’ depends upon where you want to set the margin of error, but 4.25 is a pretty reasonable number to use for that, and it makes the math really easy if margin of error is equal to one standard deviation. That means that the differences in my data are not significant unless they fall outside of the range from 9.35 to 17.85, which they do not.

Now, I suppose I could calculate the within standard deviations rather than using the overall standard deviation, but I’m pretty sure that my results wouldn’t be any different. Each method had approximately the same range, and since I already know they had similar averages, their standard deviations are probably going to be pretty close also, and I’ll have to reach the same anticlimactic conclusion, which is that there wasn’t a significant difference.

In case anyone is still interested in that slight little insignificant difference, I can inform you that the best score came from memorizing the numbers while sitting at the desk with my hands on my face, and the worst score came from memorizing the numbers while sitting at the desk without my hands on my face. I’m not entirely convinced that there isn’t something to my hypothesis that having one’s hands on one’s face somehow improves cognitive ability.

This calls for some further tests.

Strategy

Leave a comment

 

This is what happens when I play chess with my brother and he’s playing white. Except not really.

I learned how to play both chess and scrabble when I was little, but in both cases, I didn’t play a lot and I didn’t really bother to learn anything about the strategy until a few years ago. My interest in acquiring skill in strategy games has been fueled in part by sibling rivalry. I discovered I like scrabble when I noticed that I almost invariably win when playing with family members. Since taking up internet scrabble, I have come to the discouraging realization that I’m actually not so great, but I guess that’s not so terrible since I’m actually comparing myself to a few unusual individuals who take scrabble even more seriously than I do. When it comes to chess, I tend to lose to my brother, but it is very important to me that at some point, that changes.  I’m better at scrabble than I am at chess, which is probably because I’ve always loved to read and write, so I’m used to thinking about words. However, despite what certain people have insisted, scrabble isn’t really all about vocabulary and spelling. (If it was, I’d be really horrible at it) It also isn’t purely a game of luck. There is definitely such a thing as scrabble strategy, even if it is a bit different from chess strategy.

This is what it looks like when I play against myself and cheat

I don’t really mean things like trying to get your biggest scoring letters on double-letter or triple-letter spaces, or putting your word up against another word so that you spell some additional little words. Those things are pretty obvious; calling that strategy would be like saying that it’s strategical in chess not to put your queen on a certain square if your opponent already has a piece aimed there. The real strategy of scrabble involves things like knowing when it’s beneficial to play a long word that will open up lots of possible moves and when it’s to your advantage to keep the game position closed, or knowing when you’d better stay away from the triple word score space because you’ll be dead if your opponent manages to use it. Since you can’t see your opponent’s tiles, a lot of the strategy in scrabble involves guesswork, estimation, and a sense of which risky move is least dangerous. In that way, it’s very different from chess, where you can see exactly what your opponent is working with, and if you can’t see what he’s planning, that’s your fault. That’s one of the main differences between the two games; scrabble does have an element of chance that isn’t there in chess.

Of course, the biggest differences between scrabble and chess are the differences in the boards and the pieces themselves. Scrabble is simpler than chess because everything moves in the same way, that is, in straight lines. Diagonals are irrelevant. Essentially, every move is like a rook move. Also, chess games start at the edges and move into the center, while scrabble starts in the center and expands outward. Therefore, in chess you want to control the center of the board, and in scrabble you want to control the spaces around the edge. Another spatial difference is that in scrabble, both players have the same access to the same squares. Neither player has more control over any certain part of the board than the opponent does, and that is very obviously not true in chess.

I was really, really proud of this at the time

Related to the spatial differences between the two games is the fact that the chronology of the position in a scrabble game and chess game are opposite. The scrabble board fills up and becomes more cluttered as the game proceeds, whereas a chess position becomes simpler and less crowded towards the end of the game. The pieces you’re playing with are the pieces on the board, and it’s the ones off the board that are used up and out of the game. In scrabble, you’re playing with the pieces that are in your hand. Once a piece is set on the board, it’s done moving and it’s there for good. There’s nothing that either player can do about it, even if it’s blocking good moves for both of them. Towards the end of the game, it’s hard to find good moves because there aren’t a lot of places left to put them. In the very end, all of the pieces (or all but a couple) are on the board. In chess, it’s at the beginning of the game when all of the pieces are on the board and most of them are blocking each other’s paths.

Some of the basic strategical ideas in chess and scrabble are the same, though. You have the advantage if you can restrict and block your opponent but retain freedom of movement for yourself. (Of course, that goal is accomplished in very different ways, because, as previously mentioned, scrabble allows either player to make any move in any part of the board) In both games, you have to rethink and revise your strategic plans depending upon what pieces you have. (Although, in chess, your opponent knows what pieces you have, and in scrabble, he doesn’t) Both chess and scrabble require you to pay attention to your defensive and your offensive choices. Sometimes, you have to make a decision about whether to attack or defend, and sometimes, you can manage to do both with one move.  In either game, there are stupid moves and good moves, and then there are the really clever moves that practically clinch the game even if they happen pretty early. The fun of playing and the enjoyment of winning come from those moments when you do something greatly awesome and you realize that your brain totally has things under control.

Happy Birthday to the Augsburg Confession

3 Comments

Today is another one of those holidays that I wouldn’t know about if it wasn’t for the fortunate fact that it’s on my calendar, and that a few people I know have mentioned it on facebook. Actually, it might not be entirely accurate to refer to it as a holiday, because I have never heard of anyone doing anything to celebrate it, but I think it’s still worthy of being observed. Today is the 482nd anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, which was essentially a document describing Lutheranism. (Although it wasn’t actually written by Luther himself; the author was Philipp Melanchthon, and I am pleased to note that my spellcheck approves of his last name. Thanks, spellcheck.)Unfortunately, the Augsburg Confession is just a little long for me to stick the whole thing in a single blog post, so I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to take a couple quotes from it, along with the bible verses that it references, taken from the ESV. I also want to point out that, since the Augsburg Confession is very concise and the whole thing is important stuff, I’m not implying that this is a summary. There were so many parts that I didn’t quote, for the sake of brevity, that I now am questioning whether posting this was actually a cool idea. For those of you who aren’t already familiar with Lutheranism, (which isn’t many, because I think my sisters are responsible for at least 75 % of the views on this blog) I would encourage you to read it in its entirety.

From Article II: “Our churches teach that since the fall of Adam, all who are naturally born are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with the inclination to sin, called concupiscence. Concupiscence is a disease and original vice that is truly sin. It damns and brings eternal death on those who are not born anew through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…”

Psalm 51:5:  “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

John 3:5: “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’”

From Article IV: “Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By his death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight.”

Romans 3:21-26: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law. Although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Romans 4:5: “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

From Article IX: “Concerning Baptism, our churches teach that Baptism is necessary for salvation and that God’s grace is offered through Baptism. They teach that children are to be baptized. Being offered to God through Baptism, they are received into God’s grace.”

Mark 16:16: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Titus 3: 4-7: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Acts 2:38-39: “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.’”

Article X: “Our churches teach that the body and blood of Christ are truly present and distributed to those who eat the Lord’s Supper. They reject those who teach otherwise.”

1 Corinthians 10:16: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

How Horror Movies Could Be Better

6 Comments

A few days ago, I made the stupid mistake of watching a zombie movie. In my defense, I didn’t do it because of a misguided expectation that I would really enjoy said movie or because I had any interest in observing images of gory dead people. I watched it out of an intellectual curiosity about what it is in zombie movies that appeals to popular culture. As I mentioned in a blog post that I wrote about a month ago, the fear of zombies is basically an extrapolation of the fear of loss of intelligence. I could imagine the possibility of a very interesting, intellectual, and well-scripted zombie movie that plays off of this fear rather than being a series of disturbing images. Unfortunately, the particular movie that I watched barely acknowledged this aspect of zombies and instead relied upon creepy background music, gory special effects, and the characters’ extreme emotions to make the movie scary. I didn’t find the movie to be thought-provoking in any way, just disturbing on a very superficial level.

One specific way that I can elaborate on this is to point out that there were several instances in which a zombie’s hand would suddenly smash through a window and startle both the main character and me. This seemed to be the director’s strategy for evoking fear in the viewer. The feeling of being startled is, in my opinion, the least cognitive and most superficial kind of fear. An equally effective but much more tasteful way of eliciting the same response from the audience would perhaps be a scene in which the camera slowly pans across a room that at first appears to be empty and silent, but then the viewer sees a humanoid figure, partially concealed or maybe translucent, just standing there silently and creepily. I would consider that to be a pretty scary scene.

Maybe I shouldn’t really be analyzing horror movie techniques in the first place, since I’m not a fan of the genre and actually have only seen a couple movies that could be classified as horror movies, none of which I have particularly enjoyed. On the other hand, I do enjoy reading ghost stories, and I used to write a lot of ghost stories, too. I frequently have nightmares which make very good material for scary short stories. I also discovered several years ago that writing scary stories makes me less likely to have disturbing dreams; it’s as if I use up the ideas before I have a chance to dream them. Anyway, the point is that I have figured out what makes a ghost story scary and memorable, and the key is that it has to be about more than death and disgusting images. It has to rely upon ideas rather than images to evoke fear.

There are certain ideas that people naturally find creepy. One of them is the idea of death, which is what every zombie or ghost story uses, but that’s so straight-forward and so basic that it doesn’t make for a good story in and of itself. Another is things that seem human, but aren’t, particularly if they are messed up in some way. A distorted reflection in a mirror, a doll with a crack across its face, a disembodied voice, a mysterious shadow that looks like a person’s face… Even if some of those things don’t seem scary without a creepy context, if you stick them in a ghost story, they’re very scary. The plot of good ghost stories frequently center around a certain inanimate object such as a mirror or a doll that works towards that effect.

Staircases are another creepy image, although that might be my personal opinion rather than a universal fact. I personally have a kind of phobia of staircases which probably comes from the fact that they often appear in my scary dreams, but I think there’s a specific reason for that. To my overly analytic and metaphoric mind, going up or down a staircase stands for changing something. You are going someplace different from where you already are, you can’t actually see where you’re going before you get there, and if something goes wrong in the transition, you fall down and get hurt. Stairs work well for ghost stories if you think of them as a metaphor for the difference between life and death. In fact, in fiction, the difference between life and death can be metaphorical for the fact that, in real life, things change and are disturbingly unpredictable.  I remember one time when I was trying to make metaphors from a song that involved death, and my family laughed at me and said that death is never a metaphor. I beg to differ rather emphatically; I think that in art and literature, death can be a metaphor for things that are a little less specific. Otherwise, why would anyone ever want to read a ghost story or watch a zombie movie? Horror movies would be better if they made use of these kinds of ideas and metaphors.

Why I don’t think that computers are about to take over the world…yet

Leave a comment

The blog post that I posted yesterday morning took a very long time to upload, because there was a thing on my computer that I had to hunt down and uninstall first. I call it a thing because, according to my virus check, it wasn’t actually a virus. In my opinion, though, it qualified as a virus because it got onto my computer without my permission, repeatedly brought up a pop-up message asking me if I wanted to install a certain toolbar, and in so doing, slowed down my internet to the point that it was completely useless. Apparently, the reason that my computer didn’t recognize it as a virus was that it wasn’t any kind of malicious spyware or a trojan or anything like that. All it wanted to do was to install that toolbar, and it wasn’t even being insidiously sneaky about it. But I didn’t want that toolbar and I definitely didn’t want to see that pop-up message every couple of seconds or to have my internet working in slow motion. So I found the problem and got rid of it, and it fortunately went away willingly as soon as I clicked the delete button.

Technically, I can’t really blame my computer. That sort-of-a-virus was presumably created by another person on another computer and snuck onto my computer uninvited because that’s the way it was designed to work. Still, it would be nice if the computer was capable of deciding for itself that it doesn’t need a random new toolbar. But it doesn’t work that way. My computer responds to these kinds of situations by saying to itself, “Ooh! A new toolbar! I must need it; I’m getting a message that says it’s important!” I respond to these kinds of situations by clicking on the red X in the corner because my brain functions well enough (just barely) to be aware that I don’t really want that toolbar even if some computer program insists that I do. I am capable of deciding for myself what I do or don’t want, but my computer doesn’t have the capability of making decisions, so it just believes whatever it’s told. If I’m not the one telling it to do things, that’s a problem.

Computers basically just do what they’re programmed to do. Even artificial intelligence is, as the name indicates, artificial. You can have conversations with an artificial intelligence computer program on certain websites that work more or less the same way as instant messaging with a person, except that there’s no actual person on the other side. The computer decides what to say based upon data that tells it what real people have said in response to certain types of phrases. I’m sure it’s an extremely complicated and clever algorithm, but anybody has the capability of messing with it by typing in random words and phrases instead of having a sensible conversation with it. When other users try to communicate with the computer program in the same way that they’d communicate with a person, they will get a lot of non sequitor responses. The computer is responding in the way that is logical according to its programming, which doesn’t take into account the fact that there are no rules or algorithms determining what real people can do with the system.

This is the kind of thing that can happen when you’re playing the computer. This picture comes from my brother and I did not ask for permission to use it. Sorry, Brother.

Every type of artificial intelligence has the same limitations. For example, one of the games that came on my computer is chess. At the lowest levels, it’s very easy to win because the game is apparently programmed to make stupid blunders every so often and to miss any clever tactics that take more than a couple moves to win material. The higher levels, of course, are more difficult, and I myself have never been able to beat them, but there are people who have discovered easy ways to defeat that program at the highest level in just a few moves, and they can make the same strategy keep working no matter how many times they do it. I know this because some of these people have made videos and posted them on youtube. Maybe it could technically be possible for that same exact game to be played between two human players, but it certainly wouldn’t happen many consecutive times unless the player who was losing was doing it on purpose. I am aware that there are chess computer programs that are more advanced and can’t be outsmarted so easily, but even then, they only work because some intelligent human being has programmed it to follow some kind of algorithm, and not because the computer itself has a sentient understanding of chess and the capability of thinking about the game as it plays.

 

Really, the only thing a computer can do that it hasn’t been told to do is to stop working. I have known of computers to lose internet access for no readily apparent reason, to fail to save documents, and to freeze for hours on end, but I have never known of a computer to come to the conclusion that humanity is inferior and to choose to destroy or enslave it. I’m not necessarily saying that such a thing is absolutely impossible, but it couldn’t happen anytime soon because computers would first have to develop some human characteristics such as the ability to follow a thought process (as opposed to blindly following an algorithm), a desire for power or control, and basic human stubbornness. As long as computers are gullable and stupid enough to want every toolbar that the internet offers them, they are clearly lacking in these traits, and I think humanity is safe from the threat of computers taking over everything and ending the world as we know it.

Come to think of it, though, The Matrix specifically says that artificial intelligence will take over the world in the early 21st century, the proponents of the Mayan apocalypse specifically predict the end of the world in 2012, and the weirdos with the signs that I saw at the Riverfest in Little Rock last month were very certain that the end is near. Perhaps they’re all on to something after all.

Older Entries