November 2011 Archives

Tackling the Technical Tome

» What is the best way to learn a new technology? I'm talking about the kinds that come printed like hieroglyphics on the pages of a hefty technical tome. What's the most effective way to assimilate this information? .. to master the technology .. in order to wield its Mojo. Like a Jedi does with his lightsaber.

Javascript's Javan RhinoI read somewhere how the average programmer reads less than one technical book per year. Surprising, no?

I enjoy learning about & mastering new technologies. Always have. The more powerful the better.

But you neednt read many technical books in order to understand why they're considerably more challenging than your average armchair novel.

Back in '07, after web-hacking my way thru the site for several years, I read this book on XHTML & CSS. Cover to cover.

What a difference that made! Night-n-day. Suddenly the mojo was mine. No more struggling to figure out why things werent working the way I expected.

That particular title weighed in at a respectable 650 pages. But it contained plenty of fluff. (I actually like that kind of fluff. Another big deal was learning the Unix shell .. for help with VPS server administration. Very powerful. Things that used to take hours, now take minutes.)

Javascript | The Definitive GuideWrestling the Rhino

But those 650 pages are nothing compared to the 1100-page behemoth sitting beside me here now.

I must admit » this thing looks intimidating. Formidable. Daunting. Sometimes I swear it snorts at me.

But heft alone is not my only reason for dismay. Each page comes chock full of technical terms, unwieldy jargon that must be mastered if I am to have any hope of accessing the power it contains.

How I would *love* to upload the contents of this monster (.. into my brain) .. all in one shot. You know, like they do in the Matrix. But that option doesnt seem feasible. So .. we're left with the old, standard method » reading. Ugh.

I've been working on this Javascript book, off-n-on now, for several months. So I have plenty of experience dealing with such adversity.

This is not a mountain, I've come to understand, that cannot be surmounted by sheer enthusiasm alone. I mean, if I could stay awake for a week and power thru this thing, I would. But that aint how it works. (At least, not for me.)

In a strange, counterintuitive way, pure passion actually seems a hindrance here. Because passion brings frustration. More passion » more frustration.

I get a running start (passionate, enthusiastic) .. before heading up the Javascript hill. Only to find myself soon running out of steam .. exhausted, having made pitiful little progress.

What's required here is not so much passion or enthusiasm, but rather sustained, steady effort. Methodical focus. You know » the tortoise and the hare.

Anyway, after getting gored by the rhino a few times, I started to glean a few insights .. strategies for dealing with an intimidating 1100-page tome. So I've had to regroup and reassess my approach.

Photos from the New Digs

» Have a special Thanksgiving day treat for you. After taking readers on a trip thru the galaxy last time, I decided to stay local and show you 'round the new digs.

New Rad DigsSo I broke out my digital camera, charged the battery, and went for a stroll thru the neighborhood, where I snapped a few shots.

Always feel like I know people better after I've had a chance to visit their homes .. however humble they might be.

It might've taken me nearly six months, but today I posted nine (9) photos, all encoded to high-quality settings (with Adobe Fireworks). Each one weighs in at ~150 KB.

I tried to get into an artistic mind set before heading out. Channeling Cézanne.

» Rad Note: This entry originated in a previous post titled » How Big is the Universe?

When I arrived at the part where I discuss ways to conceptualize the size of the number TRILLION, I found myself detouring off into the theme you find discussed here .. namely that of the ENORMITY & IMMORALITY of our national public debt.

United States National Public Debt as of November 12, 2011Surely you see the connection. Once started tho, it became difficult to stop. But since this topic is so different from the original, I cut and re-posted it here, in its own separate entry.

Ideally, I would love for readers to read both entries together (.. the way I wrote them). But I realize that may be asking a bit much.

Here's the part that deals specifically with comprehending the enormity of a TRILLION, and therefore that of our national public debt, along with a discussion on the immorality of leaving such an enormous debt for our children to pay.

Spiral Galaxy» How Big is a Trillion?

Now we're gonna start using big numbers. So let's try to get some perspective.

How long would it take to COUNT to a MILLION, using the 1-Mississippi rate of 1-number-per-second?

Answer » 11 days (+ 13 hours, 46 minutes).

How long would it take to count to a BILLION?

Answer » 31 years (+ 8 months).

In other words, this is a huge number, but we can still deal with it .. cuz most of us can conceptualize 31 years. [ 31 years ago was 1980, back when Jimmy Carter was President. ]

Jimmy Carter, 39th POTUS, 1977-1981How long would it take to count to a TRILLION?

Answer » 31,000 years. This number is so big that our minds have trouble dealing with it.

If we go back all the way to the time the paintings were made in the caves at Lascaux, we're only HALF way there (.. half way to 31,000 years ago).

Not that the transition .. from 11 days to 31 years is exactly what I would call a baby step .. but uh, have you noticed how Trillion-with-a-T seems to take off with a life of its own? .. leaving Billion-with-a-B far behind in its dust.

Think about those caves at Lascaux the next time you hear somebody mention our national debt, or watch it tick over to another "trill," which it looks like it will be doing here very shortly. Think about those paintings when you hear reports that our government wants again to increase the nation's borrowing limit. Those wall paintings done (by our ancestors) so long ago.

Every member of congress should be required to mount a debt clock prominently on the wall of their office .. surrounded by pictures of young kids .. the ones who will be required to pay it back.

ChildrenShameful how they continue to saddle our kid's future with this kind of debt .. for political advantage. (We are the biggest debtor nation in the history of the planet.)

In other words, if we balanced our budget tomorrow .. and started paying down our debt .. at a rate of $1-per-second .. it would take (are ya ready?) » 500,000 years .. to pay it off.

That's » FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND (.. in the year 502011).

Five-hundred-thousand years is clearly a period of time beyond the ability of the human mind to grasp .. seeing most of us humans dont even live to see ONE thousand years.

This all assuming, of course, that no interest accrues over the next 500 millennia. Only problem is .. the budget isnt even close to being balanced. Neither will it any time soon.

Put another way .. say we paid $1,000 dollars (one thousand) .. every second. It would still take 500 years to pay off our debt.

Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the door at Wittenberg cathedral in 1517Let's see .. 500 years .. hmm, that would take us back to the time when Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door at the Castle church in Wittenberg.

Anybody remember those days? How about your grandfather? Does he remember Luther? How about your Great Aunt Edna? No? Didnt think so.

One thousand dollars every second .. from then 'til now. Somebody please tell me I made a math error somewhere.

Oh wait! I *did* make an error. (Thanks, Dawg.) My calculation takes into account only ONE $Trillion. But we owe FIFTEEN. =)

Silly me. What was I thinking? It's actully much worse than I thought.

Does not this mind-boggling level of debt seem downright » immoral?

Stop. Count to three. Reread last sentence. (Key word in bold font.)

Cave Painting at Lascaux FranceClearly something is not right. Cant you feel it? Down in your bones? Intuitively.

I feel the need to speak out for those who are not yet old enough to VOTE .. however futile (feudal) my protest might seem.

Lots of people talking about the effects of "class warfare" .. but nobody seems to be talking about generational warfare. Our generation robbing theirs. Living large and putting it on their tab.

How Big is the Universe?

» How big is the universe? If you answered » "too big for the human mind to comprehend" .. you're right. In other words » mind-blowingly big. But what the heck. Let's give it a shot, anyway.

Spiral GalaxyI've always enjoyed the challenge of trying to get a handle on intellectually-challenging concepts.

Plus, it's good to have our minds blown from time to time. Means we're continuing to challenge ourselves.

Our ability to use our minds .. to think, to reason, to learn & solve problems is (supposedly) the #1 distinguishing characteristic that makes us human. So ..

.. let's start local. How big is the earth? Answer » ~25,000 miles in circumference (40K kilometers).

That means it would take a Boeing 747 (with a typical cruising speed of 567-MPH or 913-KPH) about 44 hours to circle the planet (.. assuming mid-air refuelings, no head- or tailwinds, and other such impossibilities). Nearly 2 days. Sound reasonable? Two days in a 747 .. is something we can all handle. "More peanuts, please."

At that same speed, how long would it take our 747 to reach the moon? (assuming it could fly in space) Answer » 17 or 18 days (.. assuming an average distance to the moon of 240-K miles or 385-K KM).

Moon is 240,000 miles awayAbout 2½ weeks in a 747. Still not bad. (In other words, we would have to circle the earth 9 or 10 times to equal the distance to the moon.)

That also means a ROUND-TRIP loop to the moon in a 747 would take 5 weeks .. or roughly a MONTH. "What? No more peanuts?"

Leave on one full moon, return on the next. The time-period of a month seems to work well here (.. for our round-trip excursion to the moon), no?

Let's say we left a MIRROR on the moon. A big one. Once we returned to earth, how long would it take LIGHT from our super-powerful flashlight to reach the moon, bounce off our mirror, and return to earth? Answer » about 2½ seconds.

[ 2½ seconds vs a month. Hmm. Light seems MUCH faster. Unlike the speed of our 747, the speed-of-light can be difficult to grasp. But we can all handle the idea of 2½ seconds. So let's proceed. ]

How many of these round-trips to the moon would we have to make in order to equal the distance to our sun (.. some 93 million miles away)? Answer » about 200. (We're talking ballpark numbers here.)

In other words, it would take our 747 about 17 years (200 month-long trips / 12 months per year) to reach the sun. (Let's hope the air conditioner works.)

Seventeen years would be a looong trip, but it's still something we could do .. cuz all of us will likely live longer than 17 years.

So we went from 17 DAYS (.. 1-way to the moon) to 17 YEARS (.. 1-way to the sun). Dig it. [ 17 years ago .. that was 1994, back when the first George Bush was President. The dad, not the son. ] Days to years. A comparable number of days to years.

This provides excellent relative scale, no? Because we all have an excellent feel for the proportions of how a DAY compares to a YEAR. ( You should be having a very cool déjà vu right about now.) Days-is-to-years as the moon-is-to-the-sun. Comparing similar scales of time to distance. Big difference, but conceptually managable.

Well then .. how long does it take LIGHT from the sun to reach the earth? Answer » 500 seconds, or » 8 minutes, 20 seconds. Hmm. 8 minutes vs 17 years. Light is definitely much faster than our (seemingly dog-slow) 747.

The speed-of-light still seems too fast to grasp (mentally), but you should, at least, be beginning to get a FEEL for it.

This is important because the distances in space are so big/vast that the distance light travels in one year (a LIGHT-YEAR) is used as the standard/default yardstick (or "meter") of measurement out there.

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