April 2011 Archives

Free Solo Climbing | The Ultimate Sport

» Dont miss the May issue of National Geographic. It contains an article (beginning page 98) titled » Yosemite Climbing. These guys do something called free solo'ing » climbing rocks without ropes .. sheer cliff-faces, thousands of feet tall.

National Geographic Cover May 2011One slip, one mistake, one bad-hair day .. and you're toast. Splat. "A grease spot," (.. in the vernacular of Vincent Vega, our man from Amsterdam).

In other words » you fall, you die. That's why I call it the 'Ultimate Sport'.

Online you'll also find some videos you wont find in the magazine.

I've been rock-climbing. (Even have my own chalk-bag.) And let me tell you .. even WITH ropes, it's gnarly. But yes, exhilarating as hell.

After our rocking-climbing expedition, we headed for a restaurant just outside the park where hungry climbers congregate.

That's where I met a guy named Kevin who my buddy Tom introduced me to. (Tom seems to know all the climbers.)

Super nice guy (Kevin). Surprisingly humble .. for being an Ultimate Warrior of the vertical rock. Easy-going. All the climbers I met were like this .. like they had nothing to prove.

On the drive home, Tom told me how Kevin liked to free solo selected routes .. and how he once fell. Thirty feet. Landed flat on his back. (Ouch.)

Kevin credited his quick recovery to years of yoga. He dated a yoga instructor (.. something I did myself once).

Free Solo YosemiteI am very much interested in what makes a person like this tick.

My buddy Tom says it's a chemical thing .. that they have very low levels of the hormone that registers as excitement (adrenaline, I think) .. and very high levels of a hormone associated with calmness (.. tho I forget what this one was).

But I feel there must be something more .. some psychological component. Cuz there are many calm people who dont enjoy risking their lives for fun.

Obviously they need to be is flawless-shape. Every ounce of fat is another ounce they need to haul up a cliff-face. And they need supreme CONFIDENCE in their ability.

Personally, I think they're crazy. But I do admire them, and find them fascinating. Fascinating characters. Fascinating creatures.

» Sometimes I install a new program and take it for a test-drive around the digital block, playing with it for a few weeks .. to see how I like it, how it works.

The Town | Bank Robbers extraordinaireSuch was the case this weekend, when I installed a copy of Security Essentials .. a FREE anti-Virus program from Microsoft (.. after first UNinstalling my old anti-virus, of course).

Security Essentials installed fine. No problems. After which it ran an initial scan, which seemed rather comprehensive, seeing it took some 15 or 20 minutes.

After completion, it reported that no viruses had been detected on my machine. It gave my laptop a clean bill of health. Cool.

But minutes later, a little alert-window popped up saying (something like) » "There's a problem with your hard drive."

Uh .. then, slowly, over the next half-hour, parts of my desktop started to disappear .. including my taskbar and desktop icons .. all except the main four (.. i.e. My Computer, My Network, Recycle Bin & My Documents).

Very weird.

Up pops an element of Microsoft Security Essentials saying (something like) » "We've detected a serious problem with your hard drive. Click here and let us check it out for you."

So I click the button.

Few minutes later it reports (something like) » "Yeah, dude, we found serious problems with your C drive. Click here and let us fix them for you."

So I click the button.

It goes thru a list of maybe 8 or 9 "problems identified" and then reports (something like) » "We fixed MOST of the problems (6 of them, I think it was), but if you want us to fix THE REST, you first need to send us $79.95 .. for a professional upgrade."

Uh, I think not.

"Isn't my dad great?"

» Spring break last week. The Bug's first of many. An opportunity for us to spend more precious time together.

Rio | the MovieAt the playground, I was pushing him on the swings with two of his girlfriends (both named Lucy), while cracking silly jokes.

Had them laughing pretty good. (The girls were actually squealing with delight.)

After working up a sweat I said, "I need a break. You kids are wearing me out."

While walking toward the shade, I heard the Bug say (to the girls), "Isnt my dad great?"

Difficult to describe how that made me feel. Very satisfying. A warm glow came over me as I sat down.

I try to give him as much attention & affection as I can muster .. in the limited time (visitation) we have together each week.

Parenting is difficult. There's a big difference, I've found, between the *idea* of parenting .. and the act itself. Anyway, this is something I've already discussed and I see no need to repeat myself.

But it's easy to see why some kids grow up not getting the emotional nourishment they so desperately need.

Winnie the Pooh and Piglet Looking for butterfliesBecause even under the best of circumstances, parenting is hard (.. and increasingly few middle-class families these days are enjoying the best of circumstances).

Every once in a while, you get a gem like this thrown your way. But we dont do it for the gems .. or we'd spend most of our time waiting in disappointment.

"Okay," I'd ask them, "do you want a REGULAR-underdog push? .. a *SUPER* underdog? .. or a super-DUPER underdog?" (Of course, they always want the SUPER-DUPER. Even the girls.)

"Okay," I said, "we better wait for this airplane to go by .. cuz I dont want you to hit it on your way to the moon." =)

Later, as I was resting on the grass under a tree, they all came and jumped on me and wrestled me to the ground. Even their little 2-year old brother got involved in the carnage. It was ugly. I was massacred. "Somebody call 9-1-1."

Radiation Exposure & Biological Damage

» X-rays and gamma rays are nearly identical. Both consist of high-energy light "particles" (called photons) capable of damaging the cells of your body (.. by creating highly-reactive ions). But what differentiates them? What's the difference between an x-ray and a gamma ray?

Radioactive symbolMerely » the source. Point of origin. X-rays come from the electrons of an atom, while gammas come from the (radioactive decay of the) nucleus.

After they leave the source, you cant really tell whether it's a gamma or an x-ray. (Tho we will look at ways to make an educated guess.) Generally, gammas tend to be higher energy than x-rays.

More energy = more ionization = more ion pairs created = more free radicals = more biological damage .. to the cells of your body.

Think of someone punching you in the arm. X-rays punch like a girl, while gamma rays punch like a gorilla. Tho you can also have weak gammas and powerful x-rays. (Some girls punch hard.)

Nuclear Reactor Spent Fuel Cell Underwater at Spent Fuel PoolIonizing radiation produces free radicals, which are highly chemically-reactive. This means that (in the end) radiation damages the cells of your body by CHEMICAL means .. similar to how poison works.

Chemistry is very much about » electrons .. whereas 'nuclear' (e.g. fission & fusion) is all about » the nucleus.

I find the shift interesting (.. from nucleus to orbital electron). And there's a gap when the gamma is associated with neither .. after it leaves the nucleus, but before it interacts with the cells of your body.

Does not the higher energy of the photons being emitted from the nucleus suggest that the nucleus contains MORE ENERGY? (Cuz it does.)

This is part of a paradigm I developed to conceptualize radiation (.. which you cant see, tho it can kill) .. as it applies to biological damage.

X-rays and gamma rays simply have a higher frequency (shorter wave-length) in the electromagnetic spectrum .. of which visible light is a part.

In other words, if our eyes were capable .. of seeing MORE of the light-spectrum, we would be able to SEE x-rays and gamma rays .. just like we can see the colors of the rainbow. This is because x-rays, gamma rays and visible light are all part of the same thing. (Perhaps our species will evolve.)

When you see that gammas and x-rays are similar to visible light, you can see how covering a radioactive source with a lead blanket is like covering a light bulb with smoked glass. The effect is the same. The intensity is diminished.

Spent Fuel Pool on Refuel Floor Brown Ferry Nuclear PlantMost (but not all) of the radionuclides produced in your typical nuclear power plant decay by emitting gammas.

One exception, for example, is Cesium-137 (a fission fragment), which decays by emitting only a beta particle. (Beta = an electron-like particle ejected from the nucleus.)

Besides the fission process itself (.. which creates radioactive fission fragments), some elements become radioactive by becoming irradiated when they pass thru the reactor core, where they are carried (in-to and out-of) by the coolant (purified water).

There, within the reactor core, these impurities (corrosion & wear products from pumps, valves & other plant components) are subjected to an intense neutron field/flux. (Each fissioning uranium atom produces 2-to-3 neutrons. Neutrons go away when the reactor is shutdown.)

Radioactive nuclides (such as Cobalt-60) that DO emit gamma rays during radioactive decay, always emit gammas of the SAME ENERGY. This gives each gamma-emitting isotope a distinctive "fingerprint" that can be measured.

Nuclear Grade Sushi from Fukushima

» I cant believe the boys at Fukushima (TEPCo) pumped more than three million gallons of unprocessed highly radioactive water directly into the ocean. That blows my mind.

Fukushima Daichi TEPCoThat's like taking a gigantic krap in your front yard .. every day for a year.

And Japan is the country that loves sushi. Would you eat sushi from Japan? (.. without a geiger-counter?)

They should have called for a barge to be delivered and pumped all the radioactive water into there.

I'm surprised they dont have a small fleet of such barges anchored right offshore .. just in case.

In the Navy, it was not allowed to discharge radioactive liquid into the ocean within 12 miles of land.

Sometimes we would go out to sea, just beyond the 12-mile point, discharge the contents of our retention tanks, then turn around and head back to port.

Nuclear Grade Sushi from Fukushima, Compliments of TEPCoAnd we would ALWAYS run any radioactive coolant (water) thru the purification system (ion exchanger resin bed) before discharging it overboard.

Moreover, we would always SAMPLE the water being discharged, to determine its radioactive concentration (.. which was always LOW, after being processed thru the purification system).

Entries regarding the discharge of radioactive liquid were entered into a discharge log.

The discharge log was important enough that only officers were allowed to make entries (» time, date, number of gallons discharged, radioactive concentration, total number of curies discharged overboard).

After drawing the sample, we would always first evaporate-off the water before counting the sample's radioactivity (in a lead-lined "pig" .. to shield out background radiation) .. because water shields radiation, and prevents an accurate count.

New Radiation symbolWe did this (evaporation) using a heat-lamp .. not unlike the kind you see warming your burger & fries at McDonalds. It would take maybe 10 minutes to "boil off" a 2-milli-liter sample.

If the heat was too high, the water in the metal planchet would splatter onto the bulb. Splatter is bad.

The best source that I've seen for what's happening at Fukushima is » here (NY Times) and » here (NY Times) and » here (Stanford).

There's also an article that said » Inevitable Some May Die within Weeks (of radiation exposure).

That would be a huge failure. It says bad things about management at Tokyo Electric (TEPCo) and reveals a loss of control. I see confusion, disorientation. Bad decisions.

I was kinda kidding before when I said the nuclear motto was » "dilution is the solution to pollution." TEPCo apparently takes that seriously.

» As you might imagine, the beginning of school represents the BIGGEST change yet to the father/son relationship. Nothing else has even come close.

Winnie the Pooh and friends in classI was hoping somehow this wouldnt be the case, but how can it not? .. when you give your child to 'others' for large chunks of every day? (I take him to school 3 days every week.)

Here we are in April -- two months from the end of the school year -- and we've never been late. Not even once.

Tho one day last week (after we'd moved the clocks forward an hour for daylight savings), I turned off the alarm and decided to snuggle him for a "few minutes" before getting ready. (He sleeps so peacefully.)

I fell back asleep. Forty-five minutes later we had to dash out the door. (You've probably been there yourself.) We made it, barely.

Except for two days earlier this winter when he was sick, we've never missed a day. He's a little trooper.

Winnie the Pooh and Piglet Looking for butterfliesAn Unanticipated Consequence

One unanticipated consequence of the Bug starting kindergarten .. is that I no longer get those debilitating pangs .. when he leaves at the end of our time together.

Used to be (.. sometimes, not always ..) it would become difficult to breathe .. after he left at the end of the week .. especially after we had spent 5 glorious days together.

Felt like the air got sucked out of my lungs. I had to concentrate on breathing .. or it felt like I might stop .. similar to the way you feel when you get the wind knocked out of you.

Extremely uncomfortable feeling. Horrible. Like a gorilla was sitting on my chest. Like I had to fight for air .. for every breath. (No, I've never had asthma, tho I can certainly imagine.)

The only thing that helped was knowing it would pass in an hour or two. Four, tops .. on really bad days. (I've been thru the drill enough times to know how it worked.) Yet every time it happened (.. maybe every 3rd or 4th week), it still sucked.

I never did figure out exactly what was happening .. why such severe distress overtook me. I chalked it up to something hardwired into our parenting instincts .. which sometimes transcend logical rational thought.

During our last 30 minutes together every week, I would try to predict whether these pangs-of-distress would arrive this time.

Sometimes I'd anticipate they WOULD (come) -- perhaps because we had an especially enjoyable time together -- and nothing would happen.

Other times I'd feel certain this time would be a piece of cake .. and they'd come with a vengeance.

So there seemed to be no rhyme nor reason. No predictable pattern .. at least, not one I could distinguish. Tho, in general, the closer we grew, the more difficult it was to see him go.

For a few days, he'd be my whole world. I'd try to anticipate his every need. Then .. nothing. Gone. Very disorienting. And I know from talking to other dads in a similar situation that I'm not the only one who has ever felt this way.

Regulars might recall how, during the Rad days of Nietzsche (last fall) .. I kept making vague references to how Nietzsche's insanity might actually (somehow) confirm the validity of his ideas .. rather than discredit them.

Friedrick NietzscheThe problem here is that this notion is counter-intuitive, no? If a controversial intellectual goes crazy, would it not seem reasonable that a little of his nascent insanity might've infected his earlier works .. thus discrediting them?

To be honest, I am not clear myself on how my counterintuitive notion might be true. The 'feeling' comes as an intuition (.. if you believe in such things). A hunch. A vague impression.

In Nietzsche's case however .. I feel his insanity is different (perhaps) because of the topics he covered, one of which is » morals, which can transcend the intellect.

In reading him, I find the man obviously intelligent, occasionally brilliant, with a remarkably keen insight. In MOST of his thought-processes, I detect NO hint of insanity. (Whatsoever.)

But in other areas .. yeah, not difficult to believe this stuff was written by a guy starting to lose his mind.

So his mental stability seems to be context-sensitive. (Tho I have not analyzed his writings closely enough to determine where exactly the dividing lines of these contexts might lie.)

Floating Tree of UncertaintyAgain, my thoughts here seem to be consulting my intuition .. which is not the most reliable communications interface. In other words, my gut is telling me something that my head cant quite grasp. (Not fully. Not yet, anyway.)

» Dangerous Knowledge (BBC Video)

My point today involves a video titled » Dangerous Knowledge (BBC) .. which looks at the lives of .. four brilliant mathematicians:

  1. Georg Cantor ("god's messenger," a german who successfully dissected INFINITY where others such as galileo had failed)
  2. Ludwig Boltzmann ("the genius of disorder," an austrian physicist who looked at TIME & ENTROPY in new and disturbing ways)
  3. Kurt Gödel ("the limits of logic," greatest logician ever, who was a close friend of einstein and famous for his incompleteness theorem)
  4. Alan Turing ("the enigma," father of COMPUTER SCIENCE, an unapologetic gay who was chemically castrated by the british government .. for being gay)

".. whose genius has profoundly affected us, but which tragically drove them INSANE and eventually led to them all committing SUICIDE."

The above quote comes directly from the DK website, which is interesting .. cuz Cantor didnt kill himself. [ Rather he merely died alone in an insane asylum. =/ You can watch the entire video » here. ]

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden BraidTo be sure, this video is a trip. One of its recurring themes is » uncertainty. Which means our physical world (in which we live) operates on probabilities (not certainty) .. especially when you try to predict how matter will operate at the atomic and subatomic levels.

This concept should not be too surprising, tho, since tomorrow is promised to no man. There exists no certainty that you or I will wake tomorrow. Merely a probability (.. that we can venture to calculate).

The concept of 'uncertainty' initially made those who saw it most clearly feel ill-at-ease. Even Einstein had trouble with it .. leading him to famously quip » "God does not play dice with the universe."

There's a reason the subject of heaven is rarely a topic of scientific research. (It's not physical.) "So, at least," reasoned these great minds, "let's try to find some certainty here in our physical world."

Not only was that certainty NOT coming .. but the most brilliant minds could see that it was NEVER coming. Ever. You could kiss the idea of certainty goodbye. In reality, it's just an illusion.

This is kinda WHY these guys went crazy. They saw things (using their super-powerful minds). Things like infinity & eternity. But what's really weird .. is that they started out trying to prove the EXACT OPPOSITE. They started out searching for certainty. (Think about it.)

Part 4 of the 4-part documentary (titled Dangerous Knowledge) begins at t=20:00 in the lower/bottom window of the BBC video posted » here. This final part is titled The Enigma and deals with Alan Turing (1912-1954), who has been called "the father of computer science."

Alan TuringSo if anybody asks, "Who's yer daddy?" while you're using your computer, you can tell them, "Alan is."

The greatest prize awarded to the computer-scientist-of-the-year is called the Turing award, US$250K, thanks to Intel & Google. (You might've noticed that Turing was mentioned in the movie Social Network.)

The most interesting quote in the whole video comes at t=20:40. See here:

"Turing was a much more practical man than Gödel, and simply wanted to make Gödel's theorem clearer and simpler. How to do it, came to him, as he said later, in a vision. That vision was the COMPUTER.

The invention that has shaped the modern world was first imagined simply as the means to make Gödel's Incompleteness theorem more concrete."

Trippy, no? The computer (that you're using right now) had it origins in/as a vision to clarify Gödel's Incompleteness theorem .. which basically says that .. no matter how hard you try (or how smart you might be), there will be things that, while TRUE, mathematically speaking, will never be able to be PROVED true. (Might need a minute to ponder that.)

In other words, there are some truths you can never prove true. Sounds a little like faith, no?

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