Archive for December, 2015

This is why I love to learn

December 28, 2015

I love learning.

Yesterday I got to thinking about that. Why do I love learning? After all, when I die what benefit will all that learning have done for me?

That line of thinking put a damper on my love for learning. A temporary damper, however, since I woke up this morning again eager to learn new things.

Nonetheless, the question remained at the back of my head all day long.

Just now, as I a was reading a marvelous book, I realized the answer. I love learning, not for any particular benefit it might bring me, not because it might advance my career, I love learning because I love the beauty that I uncover while learning. It is this beauty which motivates me, it drives me to want to learn more and more.

I feel confident that a life filled with uncovering beauty is a life well-lived.


The cost of college has increased 1,120% since 1980

December 27, 2015

Mike Rowe (It’s a Dirty Job) talking about when he entered college in the 1980’s:

I spent the next two years at Essex Community College. There, I took dozens of unrelated courses, and started to get a sense of what I wanted to do. (At $26 a credit, I could afford to be wrong.) Eventually, I earned an AA degree. A few years later, when I had saved some money, I transferred my credits to Towson State, and with my parents help, got a BA in Communications. Total cost for all of it? Less than $10,000. Point is, I was able to start working in my chosen field at 23, free from the crushing weight of a student loan.

Today, that would be impossible. Since I graduated, the cost of college has increased 1,120%. Nothing so important has ever gotten so expensive so quickly – food, medicine, even real-estate…the rise of tuition trumps them all, outpacing the consumer price index by over 400%. The question is why? Why has the cost of college risen faster than anything else?

More …

The health risks of sitting, standing, or treadmilling for long periods

December 19, 2015

We’ve all heard about the perils of sitting for long periods of time. I agree. When I sit for long periods my back hurts and I become stiff. That’s not good.

Many people recommend using a standing desk. I have a standing desk. Standing is a welcome relief from sitting. But after standing for a while I get very stiff. That can’t be good.

Other people recommend walking slowly on a treadmill. I have a treadmill and have done this slow walking. After a month of using the treadmill every day I got deep pains in my hips. I realized that by walking on the treadmill I was working the same set of muscles over and over and over (repetitive stress). Clearly that’s not good.

Sitting for long periods is bad. Standing for long periods is bad. And treadmilling is bad.

What’s the solution? I’ve found the best solution is to change things up frequently: I kneel for 10 minutes, then stand for 10 minutes, then sit for 10 minutes, then get up and walk around for a few minutes. Then repeat.

Why are there no comments in DNA?

December 12, 2015

In Computer Science one is taught early on that sprinkling comments liberally throughout code is a good thing. Comments enable the writer to remember what was done and readers to understand the code.

If comments are so useful to understanding, then why do biological systems have no comments? For instance, there are no comments in DNA. Wouldn’t comments make it easier to unravel the mysteries of DNA?

Suppose there were comments in DNA. What language would the comments be written in? It doesn’t seem reasonable that comments would be written in English (or French, German, etc.) since those are relatively recent languages whereas DNA has been around much longer. If DNA did have comments they would likely be written in a language that we don’t understand. Unraveling that language is likely to be as difficult as understanding DNA itself. In other words, comments probably wouldn’t help.

Consider this thought experiment: suppose one day we humans receive a message from an advanced civilization from another planet. People tell me that the message will likely be in a formal language such as mathematics. Will the advanced beings include comments in their message? Or will it be written purely in a formal language? As with DNA, it’s likely there will be no comments as any comments would most certainly not be a language that we humans use or understand.

So it seems that for a thing that must span the ages, such as DNA, and for a thing that must span civilizations, such as a message from an alien planet, the thing itself must be understood and comments are useless.

The formal structure/language must speak for itself.