Thursday, December 25, 2008

Chistmas Morning 2008

Papa's Christmas Present from John & Clare

Each year my siblings, and our spouses all 'draw-names'.  This is a hold over from my childhood where being faced with purchasing six presents one for each brother and sister was so daunting we decided to 'draw-names'.  We now number 13 and do enjoy the fun of getting a present for a brother, sister, sister-in-law, or brother-in-law.  

A few years ago, after reading Cryptonomicon I wrote an application that did the name drawing at random and was extended the next year and years after to remember who's name was drawn the year before.  

So I'm now converting it to a web app but have not finished it yet.  Here is a link to the page and if  you click on my 'wish-list' you can see I did get my wish.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Mind of God

Here is the post: It is very well put. However, when you consider this line of thought and also take into consideration the only analysis engine that we humans have, our conscious brains, you are forced to into a very objective view. This, objective view, brought on by considering the analysis engine is, to me, a very comforting thing. Human understanding of the universe is limited by only our own built in limitations and the boundaries of those limitations are necessarily beyond our grasp. This insures that we can always seek, and find a more complete understanding of the universe.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mary Vann

March 10th 1949 - November 20th 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Originally uploaded by johnncox
This is brilliant, just brilliant. Click on the picture for the full story.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Russell's Teapot

Betran Russell's Celestial Teapot can be used to counter the argument: "The absence of proof is not a proof of absence". Indeed - the absence of proof actually is a proof of absence.
So, if you stare at the picture you may eventually see a 3D teapot. The teapot you may see is not celestial.
An interesting question is: Where is the teapot that you (may) see?
In this particular case the optic center of the brain is not making up the teapot but instead the teapot is carefully inserted into the seemingly random set of pixels that make up the picture and the optic center of the brain somehow, eventually teases out the image from the apparent random set of pixels. The image is called and Autosterogram.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Brain As A Modeling Engine

There is a great struggle today surrounding how to think about the universe at a very basic level. Folks who look at reality from a scientific viewpoint and those that look at it from a religious viewpoint seem to be completely deadlocked.

I think that viewing the operation of the brain as a modeling engine addresses this problem. This idea is not new with me but after hearing about it and thinking about it I really like the idea.

The brain, not only of humans, but of all organisms that move about the environment must construct a real time model of how the environment will change in the near future. This model allows the organism to predict what it should do in order to negotiate that environment. This type of prediction behavior allows the organism to navigate the environment safely and successfully.

Such a modeling engine must operate correctly and not get caught in endless loops or infinite regressions. In other words it must resolve all these types of potential show stoppers. It would not do for a creature that spots a predator to freeze in indecision while it’s modeling engine looped and recurses endlessly trying to decide what to do.

This resolution process is built-in to how the modeling engine functions. This resolution process effects how we deal with all concepts. How we construct our larger world views and how we view reality as operating over large distance and time scales is colored by this feature of our brains.

This resolution process can be used to explain abstract ideas like faith and belief. If you do reductionist thinking about religious matters you will get caught in an infinite regress. The concept of faith and belief act to short circuit this infinite regress and are natural behaviors of how the brain works.

We actually challenge this process by using the scientific method. The scientific method is not much use in an immediate way. It is more sedate and deliberate it does not have built into it bits that stop its action at a potential infinite loop or infinite regress.

For example, when we see conflicts between creationist and intelligent design folks and scientists we are seeing this very basic resolution process come into play. You have to force yourself to think using the scientific method and thinking about reality using creationist and intelligent design models is much more 'natural' from the standpoint of how the human brain organizes its interpretation of reality.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

We Alway Move At The Speed Of Light

Here is a link to an entry on my blog on MSN. I recall both they day I read those pages in Brian Green's book then one day reading the Funky Winkerbean comic.

Friday, February 22, 2008

From Carolina to Kathmandu

From Carolina to Kathmandu

From Darrell’s Desk for March, 2008.

Virginia Ward was already retired from the U. S. Foreign Service when I arrived as the new minister of the First Universalist Church of Sampson County at Red Hill, in Clinton, North Carolina, in the fall of 1974. She walked with a cane, her frame bent over, her body under attack everywhere from crippling arthritis.

Eastern North Carolina was about the worst place in the world for arthritis, since it was located in the southwest corner of The Great Goshen Swamp. It was great for growing dragonflies the size of robins, bad for arthritis. Red Hill was completely flat, getting its name from the very large clumps of wild rose bushes that appeared from a distance as red hills.

Like a number of church members, Virginia had been born and raised in the Universalist Church, went away to college and career, and retired back home. It made for a congregation far more sophisticated and worldly than the locale would indicate. Virginia, for instance, had spent a number of years in Kathmandu, Nepal, helping local women better care for their families in various ways: teaching nutrition, first aid, and even a little family planning.

I loved visiting her home. Outside, it was a new townhouse in Wilmington. Inside, it was Nepal. It was the first time I had seen a real home decorated with such beautiful, exotic things. It was as though everything she used, even the smallest teaspoon, was a work of art. She was also the first person I met who had meditated, not as a New Age discovery, but as something she had learned in Asia decades ago. Her meditation helped manage her arthritis pain.

One summer, I broke my ankle and returned to worship in the fall wearing a cast. After a few weeks, it came off. I went easy on the leg, of course, while also being impatient to get back to normal. One Sunday, she called me to her after worship.

“Don’t limp!” she said, most emphatically. I didn’t realize it, but I had fallen into a slight limp, because I found, if I limped a little bit, I could walk a little faster. Virginia saw that I was doing something she must have worked very hard not to do for many years.

“Walk as slowly as you have to walk, but don’t limp!” she explained. “If you favor the leg now, it might never heal properly. If you walk slowly but straight, you’ll be fine. All it takes is fighting through a little pain now.”

Of course she was right. She knew about fighting through pain. Just to leave home and come to church was an act of will.

When I visited Kathmandu in 1996, I did so at least in part because of Virginia. The way she described the land, the people and the culture made it sound wonderful and exotic and she was absolutely right. When I spent a week trekking around base of Anna Purna, I did not limp.

Rev. Darrell Berger
Consulting Minister
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Essex County
35/47 Cleveland St.Orange, New Jersey 07050

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Total Lunar Eclipse

20-21 February 2008 Total Lunar Eclipse

The video below contains some stills and a couple of short video clips of last nights Total Lunar Eclipse. The evening started out great, a nice clear sky and decent temperatures. However, as the eclipse started the clouds gathered and I gave up bringing everything back inside. About the time I was sure that Duke was going to loose its basketball game I decided to turn in. I then thought, what the heck I'll check on the cloud cover. Well the clouds had for the most part completely dissapeard and the full moon was totally eclipsed. I brought out all my equipment on the back proch and started snapping pictures. The results are below, enjoy.

It's Organic? (It's Alive?)

I got the following text message and picture at right from my daughter:

Joe picked up this whacky piece of produce at the gro today. We don't know what is it but we're going to cook it and eat it anyway!

My response was:

Well it does look organic my only advice is to make sure it is dead before you cook it since being cooked alive is cruel thing to do to anyone (thing).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Traffic Comes To A Halt When The Volume Of Traffic Reaches A Critical Value

Traffic Comes To A Halt When The Volume Of Traffic Reaches A Critical Value

Here is a article that describes a traffic model that has been developed that explains what I, and I'm sure many other drivers along crowded interstate highways have noticed many times.

Here is the LINK

I recall some years ago explaining to my kids as we travelled Interstate highway 85 in North Carolina that when the 'carrying-capacity' of a highway reaches a certain critical value a car could just tap it's breaks and cause a backward traveling wave in the traffic that would result in all traffic coming to a halt some miles behind the offending car.

I noticed this phenomena many times when returning home along I85 in North Carolina just after passing Greensboro NC heading toward Raleigh.

You could 'feel' the traffic load on the highway and you would know that there was no accident ahead but just the overloading of traffic.

Now this highway has been expanded to 4-6 lanes in each direction and this event rarely happens.

The solution to this problem is to equip all cars with GPS and proximity sensors and to equip highways with traffic volume sensors that would relay that information to onboard computers in cars to allow them to drive 'smartly' so the highway would not become so crowded. On a holiday weekend it would be the case that you would need to 'reserve' a space in the traffic flow for a certain time. You would not actually do this but your on-board computer would do it for you.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

An Interesting Example "Gotcha Capitalism"

An Interesting Example

This morning I listened to Terry Gross's NPR show Fresh Air and she interviewed the author of the book, Cheats Fees and Gotcha Capitalism by Bob Sullivan .

Here is a link to that episode of Fresh Air.

Mr Sullivan is also a columnist on MSNBC's "The Red Tape Chronicles" which specializes in internet scams and consumer fraud. Here is the link on Amazon.COM to the book Cheats, Fees and Gotcha Capitalism

Everyone runs into this sort of thing all the time. We understand Internet scams and Consumer fraud but what Mr. Sullivan talks about are 'legal' scams and fraud that are built into our market economy.

The long and short of it is that we must maintain constant villigence or the folks we do business will 'nickle-and-dime' us to death.

This also confirms some behaviors that I beleive govern how complex systems evolve. That is, they, the complex systems, always evolve into monocultures which naturally cause the emergence of opportunistic strategies that compromise the monoculture. Why this happens is connected with game theory and optimal strategies.

The reaction of the monoculture to the opportunistic strategy causes it to evolve and become more robust (it could also go extinct).

In the case of hidden fees imposed on the population by Banks, Merchants, and Credit Card Companies the 'reaction' that makes the culture more robust is driven by the Federal Trade Commission. Interestingly enough the FTC manpower has decreased by almost 1/2 since 1979. Mr Sullivan, in the interview, gave the connection to the FTC and its changes.

This does not bode well, and is at a fundamental level why folks should, in their own self interest support candidates like John Edwards and other liberal, progressive candidates.

This is not to say that Democrats are totally immune to the lobbying of industry who are quite happy for the FTC to be way overworked and understaffed but they, the progressives, are light years ahead of their Republican colleagues in being sensitive to such issues.