Thursday, April 16, 2015

3-D Printers on Mars and Your Faith in God

Scientists are investigating using 3-D printers in space.  The idea is to use raw materials found on the moon or Mars to build shelter and other structures needed to sustain life [see article here] .  The 3-D printers can stuff or they can make other 3-D printers that can make more stuff.

3-D printers can already self-replicate, sort of.  They can make many of the parts, just not the electronics and other key elements [see article here].  These would have to be supplied from Earth.

But there are already self-replicating machines that are microscopically small, called nanobots (Nano for "very small" and bot for "robot").  These nanobots create a variety of tiny structures that can be assembled into larger machines that can perform almost any task.  For example, these machines can search for the raw materials they need by:

  • Digging in the ground
  • Autonomously roaming around on the ground
  • Self-propelling in water
  • Flying in the air
They use the raw materials they collect for energy or to make other machines (via the nanobots).  It's amazing that these nanobots already exist and scientists have absolutely no idea where they came from.  What are they?  They're called "DNA".  DNA is a microscopically small "machine" that makes cells (tiny structures) that together form various living things (plants, animals and us).  The living things can dig, walk, swim, fly.  And they can make copies of themselves with no extra spare parts required.

Once again, scientists have no idea where DNA came from, but many do know one thing for sure: there is no God.  I'm not sure how they know that when they have no idea where something as amazing as DNA came from.  But they do.


Friday, April 10, 2015

The Flight (A parable)

Steve and Karen lived in a remote trading post in the Alaskan wilderness. Steve was taking his last trip into town to get supplies for the coming winter. By trip into town, I mean a flight in his plane over two mountain ranges separated by a desolate valley. As he prepared to leave, Karen said "Steve, do you have the list?". Yes he replied. "You need to stick to the list". Steve ignored her. "Did you hear me? you need to stick to the list". Steve turned, looked Karen in the eyes and said "I have the list, don't worry". With the engine roaring, the plane zipped down the runway and jumped into the air. Gravity disappeared and Steve felt renewed freedom. Steve reminisced about his flying adventures. As he climbed altitude to the first mountain range, Steve could hear the words of his flight instructor saying "The Minimum Safe Altitude is 1000 feet above the ground. That means if there is a mountain, you need to be 1000' ABOVE the highest peak". Steve ignored this advice as he flew as close as possible to the mountain ridge. The snow capped jagged ridge was spectacular up close. He passed into the quiet valley. He thought again about Karen. She had given him an envelop with their meager savings and THE LIST. "I'm giving you more than you need, in case prices have gone up. We need everything on that list." He wondered why he never got to put stuff on the list. "Just the necessities" he could hear Karen's voice in his head. "What about my necessities?", he thought in reply. He felt his blood pressure rise so he dropped into the valley and buzzed a herd of caribou. He felt in control again and climbed again to the next range. He soon was on decent and landing at the small airport. Time to go shopping. Steve was surprised to find prices the lowest he'd ever seen. He purchased everything on Karen's list way under budget. He mulled over buying some extra "necessities" Karen left off the list. He heard her voice in his head "Stick to the list". He rationalized that what she was really saying was "make sure you get everything on the list", which he had done with money to spare. He bought what he wanted and still had money left over. He looked at the cash in his hand and thought "This cold cash will do me no good on the long winter nights. I need something to keep me warm". So he purchased more "necessities". Back at his plane, with his cargo loaded, he prepared for takeoff. The plane barely responded to the throttle. It slowly increased speed and was weight off wheels just barely before the runway ended. The ascent was slow. Steve soon calculated that he was climbing too slowly, so he went to maximum throttle. The engine strained and the only thing that climbed was the needle on the temperature gauge. Steve sweated as he realized he had to do the unthinkable. With the plane in autopilot, Steve wiggled to the cargo hold, took out a bottle, opened it, took a drink, then opened the door and threw the bottle out. Then he started pushing boxes out until the engine quit straining. Half of his extra cargo was now gone. Back in the cockpit, Steve again pushed the throttle and the plane climbed slowly. He barely cleared the mountain ridge and wished it was a safer 1000 feet clearance. As he entered the valley, he kept a steady altitude. No buzzing caribou this time. He saw ugly black clouds in the distance but new he could beat them. About half way across the valley, the cross winds from the storm buffeted the small plane. Each bout of turbulence pushed the plane downward. Once again he pushed the plane to the limit with the same results. Steve practically cried as he realized what he needed to do. Once again he wiggled back, opened the door, and started pushing out boxes until the engine purred again. Once again, he narrowly cleared the second ridge. The weather was now calm and it was an easy decent to his home. Relieved, Steve regained his composure and thought what he'd tell Karen. The first part of the trip was entirely his fault. He had too much cargo. He couldn't tell Karen about that. The second part was not his fault, but couldn't tell Karen about unloading the supplies he wasn't supposed to buy. Had he done anything right? He still had everything on the list. That's the story he would tell Karen. As he landed and taxied towards the house, Karen ran out to greet him. Her face was white and she looked worried. "I heard on the radio that a storm was coming. Steve, I was so worried". Steve, grinned, said "I'm fine. And better than that, I got everything on your list". They unloaded the supplies and the color returned to Karen's face. "I'm so glad your okay". Steve repeated "I'm fine, and I got everything on your list". Then Steve let slip that he "also got a good deal". Karen looked pleased and said, "Oh good! So where's the change?"

Sunday, January 11, 2015

An Antidote For Racism

I just finished reading "Up From Slavery" by Booker T. Washington, published in 1901.  I think every American regardless of race should read this book.  Why?

"I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed."

If any American thinks they didn't get a fair start or think they deserve more, compare your life to Booker T. Washington's life.  Born a slave in the humblest of circumstances.  He didn't know his father (believed to be a white man from a neighboring plantation).  He lived in a primitive shack with little protection from the elements and a dirt floor,  They ate the coarsest of foods cooked over an open fire.  He sees some girls eating ginger cakes and that would be his highest ambition, to eat ginger cakes.

"Nothing ever comes to me, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work."

If any American thinks they are entitled, compare Booker's journey from Slavery to visiting the White House.  After freedom comes to the slaves, he struggled to survive.  He works in the mines with his stepfather, and learns to read the number "8".  His ambition to learn ends up taking him to Hampton University and he ends up running the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

"Every persecuted individual and race should get much consolation out of the great human law, which is universal and eternal, that merit, no matter under what skin found, is in the long run, recognized and rewarded."

If any American is blinded by race, they should instead focus on merit.

"The older I grow, the more I am convinced that there is no education which one can get from books and costly apparatus that is equal to that which can be gotten from contact with great men and women."

Every American should strive to know great men and women (by reading their biographies) and more importantly, strive to be great men and women.

"At that institution I got my first taste of what it meant to live a life of unselfishness, my first knowledge of the fact that the happiest individuals are those who do the most to make others useful and happy."

If any American wants to be happy, well...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking

Inspired by the book "Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking" by Susan Cain

Steve was a quiet guy.  To get out of talking, he became a monk and took a vow of silence.  At his monastery, monks had an annual review where they were allowed to say two words.  After his first year, he was asked "What would you like to say using your two words?"  Steve replied "Food Cold".   
At his second annual review, once again he was asked "What would you like to say using your two words?"  Steve replied "Bed hard"
His 3rd year passed and again the abbot asked him "What would you like to say using your two words?"
Steve said "I quit."  The abbot replied, "I'm not surprised.  Ever since you got here, you've done nothing but complain"

What is an introvert?
Why is it hard being an introvert?
How can we help introverts?

What is an Introvert

Introverts don't have a social disorder.  They just respond differently to social stimulation.  Instead of being energized by intense social interaction, they prefer a trickle charge; which they get from alone time or maybe with a close, trusted friend.

1/3 to 1/2 of the population are introverts.  There's a good chance there many of us are introverts.

How can you tell if you might be a
  • You might be an introvert if you enjoyed timeout as a child.
  • You might be an introvert if one of your favorite games is solitaire.
  • You might be an introvert if you can’t understand what’s so bad about solitary confinement.
  • You might be an introvert if you like it when the librarian shushes people in the library.
Introverts are just one type of person.  As you know, there are two types of people in the world: Those that divide people into two types and those that don't.

Actually, the two types are introverts and extroverts, but in reality, we all have a little bit of introvert and extrovert in us and each of us lies somewhere on the spectrum.

Introverts may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas.  They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues and family.  They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation.  They tend to dislike conflict.  Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.

Why is it hard to be an introvert?

Society identifies two types of people: extroverts and people that aren't extroverts.

It wasn't always this way.  When our communities were smaller and tighter knit, it was your reputation and character that mattered.  With the industrial age, our cities got larger.  It was hard to establish a reputation, so the outspoken extrovert got the job.

In our extroverted world, the extroverts typically end up being in charge.  But there's a problem with this.  While we are most likely to agree with the most outspoken person in the group, research shows that we tend to agree with them even when they are wrong.  Besides being wrong, we tend to ignore the introvert.

This is unfortunate since introverts tend to be more intelligent and creative.  Research shows that introverts make better leaders because they allow their employees to run with their ideas instead of suppressing creativity.

How to help an introvert

Nurture the introvert inside of you.  Embrace quiet solitude, let your mind wander and dream so that you can have amazing thoughts.  Amazing things happen when the noise of the world is shut out and the mind is given a chance to work.

But, remember:
How many introverts does it take to change a light bulb?  Only one, but 3 others show up with a light bulb; they forgot to tell anyone their plans.

Introverts are awesome, they just keep it to themselves.

Don't be like Steve the monk, taking a vow of silence and then sound like a complainer when you say your two words.

How many extroverts does it take to change a light bulb?  Only one, but they only change it if the light is going to shine on them.

For your extroverted side, remember to resist the temptation to hog the spotlight.  Identify the introverts around you.  Listen to them, and let them be creative.


Steve discovered he was an introvert.  He just didn't need much social interaction.  He found it hard to make it in our society that emphasizes and rewards extroversion.  Steve joined Toastmasters to improve his extroverted side.  His club members found him clever, smart and funny.  At first, they weren't sure if Steve liked them because he avoided small talk after the meetings.  They discovered that he did like them.  How did they know?  Instead of looking at his own shoes, Steve looked at their shoes.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Staying in Shape - Should you do CrossFit?

While walking the dogs today, I came across a group training for a Spartan Race.  They had their obstacle course set up and were really pushing themselves.  When it comes to staying in shape, it seems many think "more is better".  I decided to do a little analysis on the different approaches to staying in shape.  Call it science or math, but my analysis agrees with my experience over 50+ years.

Imagine you have achieved your ideal physical condition.  You're at a perfect weight, muscle tone, strength, etc.  To celebrate, you decided to take it easy for 100 days.  What happens?  If you did nothing, your muscles would waste away, or atrophy.  (see figure)

Of course, we are never completely inactive.  The next figure shows that our muscles would atrophy until a certain point sustained by pushing buttons on our remote controls, getting up off the sofa, opening the refrigerator door, lifting forks to our mouths, etc.  

But we miss being in shape, so every weekend we go crazy.  We hike, do yard work, ride our bike, play tennis, soccer, basketball, etc.  The figure below shows that we are doing better than our couch potato days, but still not to our ideal because we atrophy during the week.

 We make an effort and commit a little time on a regular basis.  Hit the gym 3 days a week or play tennis or whatever.  It's much less exercise than what we did on the weekend, but we keep atrophy in check and finally maintain our ideal condition (see figure).

This should be good enough for you, but then you watch an episode of American Ninja Warrior and hear your friends talk about the upcoming Spartan Race and Mud Run.  You can do it!!!  You decide to go hard core and join a local CrossFit gym.  You're working out harder than you ever have before.  It feels good!!!  After about a month, you get hurt.  You have to stop working out for a few weeks (while your muscles atrophy).  Then BAM, you're back in the gym KILLING it!!!  You get back to your peak and then you hurt yourself again.  With atrophy, you're on your way back to couch potato.  Good Job!!!  (See Figure)

So what's it going to be for you?

Friday, September 5, 2014

I want to be the Pelican

Last weekend I took my sons camping at Two Harbors campground on Catalina Island.  We enjoyed our view of the harbor from our campsite and enjoyed snorkeling in the clear water.  On our last day we hiked over to the "other" harbor.  We watched the pelicans "dive-bombing" into the water.  I don't think I've ever seen so many pelicans fishing.  We were amazed at how they could spot a fish from high up, dive, plunge into the water and come up with a fish.

Each time a pelican would come up with a fish, several annoying island birds would immediately start squawking and try to steal the fish out of the pelicans mouth.  The pelicans learned to come out of the water slowly, bringing their large bills out of the water last.  This way they could secure their catch.

I realized this was a metaphor for life.

There are those that are equipped and skilled at "catching their own fish".  These are the pelicans/producers: entrepreneurs, skilled craftsmen, tradesmen or other professionals.

Then there are those that decide to "squawk at" and take from the producers.  These are the thieves and "re-distributors".

I want to be the pelican.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

I can't trust him

A while back I was coaching a boys basketball team, a group of 14-18 year old boys at church.  We would hold practices in the basketball gym at church. I tried to teach the boys basketball skills while teaching myself how to coach.  I enjoyed the experience even though it took time away from my young family.

One day I needed to leave practice early and the boys wanted to stay.  The problem was that I had the key to the building and the building needed to be locked.  I identified a boy to trust with the building key.  His parents were leaders in the church and community.  They had a large family and were very organized and responsible.  I thought I could trust him.

Next time I saw this boy I asked for the key.  "It's at home".  I kept at him, calling him several times.  Finally he admitted to me that didn't know where the key was.

What should my reaction be?  My trust was broken, so I resolved to NEVER lend a key to a teenage boy again.  They can't be trusted.  The problem is, that means that every teenage boy that I would meet for the rest of my life would be punished for the error of one boy.

It's true that teenage boys make plenty of mistakes.  But if I followed this pattern of broken trust, all teenage boys would be punished for the failings of others.  I wouldn't be able to trust a boy to wash my car, mow my lawn, walk my dogs, bag my groceries, date my daughter or grand daughter, etc.

Luckily I realized this pattern early and adopted a policy of trust first.  A key can be replaced.  A boy experiencing an unjust loss of trust and freedom can result in a lasting scar.

That's why I cringe when I hear the emotional cries for stricter laws.  Every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist.  We take our shoes off, empty our pockets and sometimes get patted down when we want to fly on an airplane.  Luckily this policy has been slightly reversed [link]

Every gun owner is a potential mass murder.  There are just as many deaths from drunk driving as there are from guns.  We tried taking away the freedom to drink and that ended up giving more power to criminals.  Why will taking away guns be better?

Laws are passed.  Signs pop up all over the place restricting access or behavior.  Is it any surprise that more and more people escape into virtual worlds of video games and social media?    

It's something to think about.