The God Question

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During my 4th period class today, I got asked one of my least favorite questions by one of my students: “Do you believe in God?”

It’s a science class, and I want us to stay on-topic. Discussing my views on the existence or non-existence of a deity isn’t going to help with that. I sighed, and said what I always say in this situation: “That’s a personal question, and I don’t answer personal questions.”

The students then remembered that I have a Bible on the bookshelf in my classroom, and concluded, on the basis of this single shred of evidence, that I am, indeed, a believer. (The Bible is there as one of many options for my students to read during their designated reading time, just before lunch.)

Since then, I’ve been to Amazon, and ordered an English translation of the Qur’an, which I will place on that same bookshelf — probably right next to the Bible. I wonder what my students will make of that? 

My Possible Encounter with Ron Paul

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So, while driving on an Arkansas highway, I had an encounter with Ron Paul.

Maybe.

What I know with certainty is that I saw a vehicle with a license plate that stated, “RONPAUL.”

I was unable to catch up with this vehicle to check to see if it was being driven by, um, the Ron Paul, and this is due to Ron Paul’s/the driver’s libertarian principles.

And, by “libertarian principles,” I mean that this guy, whoever he was, was driving just as fast as he wanted to.

# # #

[Photo from Ron Paul’s Wikipedia page.]

 

For John Lennon’s Birthday, the True Story of How I Observed This Holiday in 1983

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I’ve been a fan of John Lennon for as long as I can remember, and October 9, his birthday, has always been a special day for me. In 1983, when I was a high school junior, celebrating his birthday changed from something I simply did, by choice, into what, at the time, I considered a moral imperative.

In October of ’83, I was a student — a junior — at McClellan High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, and October 9th happened to be the day that all juniors were, according to that school’s administration, required to take the ASVAB: the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. While this is a standardized test, it isn’t like other standardized tests — it is actually a recruitment tool for the United States military.

At the time, Ronald Reagan was president, and we were in one of the many scary parts of the Cold War, with the threat of global thermonuclear war looming over us at all times. If you are too young to remember the Reagan era well, it may be hard to understand just how real, and how scary, it was to grow up with a president who did such things as making “jokes,” like this, in front of a microphone:

Reagan made this extremely unfunny “joke” the next year, in 1984, but the climate of fear in which he thought such a thing would be funny was already firmly in place in 1983, and I was already openly questioning the sanity of our president. My own anti-war attitudes, very much influenced by Lennon and his music, were already firmly in place. For the few unfamiliar with it, here is a sample of Lennon’s music.

So here I was, a high school junior, being told I had to take a test, for the military, on John Lennon’s birthday. I reacted to this in pretty much the same way a devout Jew or Muslim would react to being told to eat pork chops: I absolutely refused to cooperate. “Blasphemy” is not a word I use often now, and it wasn’t then, either, but to cooperate with this would have been the closest thing to blasphemy which I was capable of understanding at that age (I was 15 years old when this happened).

The other juniors got up and shuffled off, like good, obedient soldiers, when the intercom told them to go take the ASVAB. I simply remained seated.

The teacher told me it was time to go take the ASVAB. I replied, calmly, that no force on earth could compel me to take a test for the military on John Lennon’s birthday. At that point, I was sent to the office. Going to the office posed no ethical nor moral dilemmas for me, for I wanted the people there to know, also, that it was wrong for them to give a test for the military on October 9, of all days.

The principal, a man already quite used to dealing with me and my eccentricities, knew it would be pointless to argue with me about the ASVAB. He simply showed me a chair in the main office, and told me I could sit there that day, all day, and I did. To the school, this might have been seen as a single day of in-school suspension, but I saw it for what it really was: a one-person, sit-down protest for peace, in honor of the greatest activist for peace the world has ever known. It was an act of civil disobedience, and I regret nothing about it.

I will be sharing this story with Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, a woman I very much admire, and the greatest living activist for peace in the world today. Yoko, I do hope you enjoy this story. You and John have done great things, and they will not be forgotten, as long as people remain alive to tell about them.

Peace to all.

[Credits: photo from rollingstone.com; videos from YouTube.]

The True Tale of the “Facebook Agent”

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Today, a guy claiming to be named Ronnie Crider friend-requested me on Facebook. It wasn’t long after I accepted the friend-request before I got a private message from him, at which time I found out that, according to his profile and his messages to me, he’s a “Facebook Agent.”

It seems this supposed F.A. needed certain personal information from me, so that he could get my “$200,000 thousand United State dollars” prize to me, at which point the conversation got bogged down, since I wanted clarification whether he wanted to give me two hundred thousand thousand (which is two hundred million, and is what he typed), or just a “mere two hundred thousand,” as I called it, it only being 0.1% of the originally stated figure. The amount he was pretending to offer sounded paltry, when compared to the much higher figure he actually, but accidentally, pretended to offer!

After getting giving him sufficient “rope,” which he used, as predicted, for the usual purpose in such situations, I reported him to Facebook — for impersonating Facebook. I thought T.R. Facebook (“The Real Facebook”) would have a serious problem with F.S. Facebook (“Fake Scammy Facebook”) doing their fake scammy things. This seems reasonable, does it not?

However, I just got a message, in response to my report, from T.R. Facebook, and they aren’t closing F.S. Facebook’s account. Apparently, T.R. Facebook is just fine, for reasons I do not understand, with people pretending to be “Facebook Agents,” but I still wouldn’t recommend it. To anyone. That’s no way to live one’s life. 

I have this guy blocked now, but I did notice we had a bunch a mutual friends on T.R. Facebook, so those who know me on T.R. Facebook, in particular, are advised to watch out for F.S. Facebook, who uses the name mentioned above, and a profile-picture of a white guy in a suit, approximate age 50. I’m including the actual name he used because he (or she) probably stole it from some guy whose real name is Ronnie Crider, and perhaps that identity-theft victim will find out he is being impersonated because of this blog-post. The odds are small, but it is possible. Perhaps, if the actual Ronnie Crider reports F.S. Facebook for impersonating him, then T.R. Facebook will close his account. Maybe.

Now, of course, “watching out” for Agent F.S. Facebook, as I advised above, doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun at his expense. If you would find it an entertaining diversion, and want to toy with him over his terrible math and writing when/if he contacts you, as I did, I suppose that’s what he deserves, for trying to scam people.

Later note: T.R. Facebook contacted me again, and now they are reviewing the rules of Facebook with F.S. Facebook, which sounds like oh so much fun to endure, does it not? Perhaps T.R. Facebook follows my blog?

The Physics of Cats, Copperheads, Centipedes, Catbounce, and Catbouncemax

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Definition of catbouncemax (shortened form of “maximum catbounce”): for any particular cat, its catbouncemax is equal to the takeoff kinetic energy of that cat if it suddenly and unexpectedly finds itself face-to-face with an adult copperhead snake.

I’ve actually seen this happen. Really. The cat reached a height I estimate as 1.4 meters.

Measured in joules, a cat’s catbouncemax can most easily be approximated by observing and estimating the maximum height of the cat under these conditions. For ethical and safety reasons, of course, one must simply be observant, and wait for this to happen. Deliberately introducing cats and copperheads (or other dangerous animals) to each other is specifically NOT recommended. Staying away from copperheads, on the other hand, IS recommended. Good science requires patience!

After the waiting is over (be prepared to wait for years), and the cat’s maximum height h, in meters, has been estimated, the cat’s catbouncemax can then be determined by energy conservation, since its takeoff kinetic energy (formerly stored as feline potential energy, until the moment the cat spots the copperhead) is equal to the gravitational potential energy (PE = mgh) of the cat at the top of the parabolic arc. In the catbounce I witnessed, the cat who encountered a copperhead (while walking through tall grass, which is why the cat didn’t see the snake coming) was a big cat, at an estimated mass of 6.0 kg. His catbouncemax was therefore, by energy conservation, equal to mgh = (6.0 kg)(1.4 m)(9.81 m/s²) = ~82 joules, which means this particular cat had 82 J of ophidiofeline potential energy stored, specifically for use in the event of an encounter with a large, adult copperhead, or other animal (there aren’t many) with the ability to scare this cat equally as much as such a copperhead. (I’m using a copperhead in this account for one reason: that’s the type of animal which initiated the highest catbounce I have ever witnessed, and I seriously doubt that this particular cat could jump any higher than 1.4 m, under any  circumstances.)

It should be noted that the horizontal distance covered by a catbounce is not needed to calculate a cat’s catbouncemax. However, this horizontal distance will not be zero, as is apparent in the diagram above. Why? Simple: cats don’t jump straight up in reaction to copperheads, for they are smart enough not to want to fall right back down on top of such a snake.

It is more common, of course, for cats to jump away from scary things which are less scary than adult copperheads. For example, there certainly exist centipedes which are large enough to scare a cat, causing it to catbounce, but with that centipede-induced catbounce being less than its catbouncemax. The following fictional dialogue demonstrates how such lesser catbounces can be most easily described. (Side note: this dialogue is set in Arkansas, where we have cats and copperheads, and where I witnessed the copperhead-induced maximum catbounce described above.)

She: Did you see that cat jump?!?

He: Yep! Must be something scary, over there in that there flowerpatch, for Cinnamon to jump that high. At least I know it’s not a copperhead, though.

She: A copperhead? How do you know that?

He: Oh, that was quite a jump, dear, but a real copperhead would give that cat of yours an even higher catbounce than that! The catbounce we just saw was no more than 75% of Cinnamon’s catbouncemax, and that’s being generous.

She: Well, what IS in the flowerpatch? Something sure scared poor Cinnamon! Go check, please, would you?

He: [Walks over from the front porch, where the couple has been standing this whole time, toward the flowerpatch. Once he gets half-way there, he stops abruptly, and shouts.] Holy %$#@! That’s the biggest centipede I’ve ever seen!

She: KILL IT! KILL IT NOW!

A True Story from My Childhood: Roman Numeral Dollar Signs

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When I was a child, I learned Roman numerals before I learned about the dollar sign. When I first encountered a dollar sign, I interpreted it as an “S” with a Roman numeral one superimposed over it. It then followed (I thought at the time) that the symbols for $2 through $10 would look like those shown above.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long before I figured out this would be impractical. I certainly would not want to have to write the symbol for $3,978, after all.

The Misadventures of Jynx the Kitten, Chapter Two: Jynx vs. My Computer

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Jynx: 1, Computer: 0.

Tonight’s feline insanity started while we were watching Star Trek — the episode where Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock go up against a planet full of nuclear-armed Space Nazis.

Apparently, cats — or, at least, this cat — find Nazis disturbing, which, of course, they were — and will be again, if they appear in the 23rd Century . . . because some half-crazed future historian went and violated the Prime Directive, becoming, a few years later, a fully-crazed future historian. Jynx was so incredibly disturbed by the Space Nazis, in fact, that he bounced over pillows and blankets, in a series of nicely Newtonian . . .


&^ (Stop that, Jynx!)

. . . parabolic arcs, to land on my computer. He then proceeded to pause the episode — then close my browser (the picture-moment, with my wife laughing hysterically as she took it), and finally tried to bite the heads off several Space Nazis as the screen slowly darkened. After due consideration, Jynx decided this was not enough, and so, next, he reached out a paw, and quickly turned my computer completely off. A smug look followed. You haven’t seen a look this smug, unless, maybe, you’ve also seen one on the face of a kitten.

Getting it (my computer, not Jynx) turned back on was not easy. For a little while, in fact, I thought Jynx had destroyed the Internet. In reality, the Internet had been fine all along, for this picture, taken a little earlier, with a tablet, got to my e-mail account almost instantly. It took much longer, however, for me to actually get to my e-mail account.

My computer now has tiny bite marks all over it, and plays Radiohead’s song “2 + 2 = 5” so slowly that it’s turned the song into “1.5 + 1.5 = π” – and that song sounds terrible.

I hope my computer lives long enough for this post to make it to my blog. In the meantime, Jynx reigns — OW! — triumphant.

[2016 update: that computer is now officially dead. Jynx the Cat lives on.]