Friday, March 23, 2012

Humanbirdwings Hoax

If you follow science & technology news like I do, you've received a half-dozen or more news blurbs hailing the breakthrough in human powered flight with links to the YouTube Videos.  Since the story seems to be spreading faster than one can produce individual explanations, it seemed like a good idea to put up one for everyone.

Given the floppy, high-drag wings, I could not understand how something with much less lift area than very efficient hang glider and paraglider wings could *flap* (quite inefficiently) and not just maintain, but actually *climb*...and he has no headwind!  With near perfect surface rigidity and wings of this size filled with hydrogen (or better for weight: a vacuum) maybe such a thing...

When receiving news of the breakthrough, I checked the "100 meters of flight" video, shown as number 14 out of 14.  I noticed a number of strange things:
1 - No witnesses: where were the millions who would want to see this event?
2 - Climbing on upstroke: the flyer's body appears to actually gain altitude in several bounces while the wings are still on the recovery upstroke when there should be substantial CG (center of gravity) loss.
3 - Assistants Run Away: At Kitty Hawk, other early attempts, and with modern gliding, assistants run with the pilot in case of accident.  Only after after dangerous propulsion (props, rockets, jets) would there be any reason to run away.  Watching video 13 of 14, supposedly showing a "near takeoff", I discovered why...it was to explain pointing the camera to the ground!

Blurring the camera digitally and using a wipe effect, this ground is replaced with this...
...a different set of grass and leaves.  If you download the video and watch it at slow motion, the replacement is more easily seen.  The video editors brilliantly capitalized on the shadow of a running assistant to disguise the wipe. When the camera pans back up, we see the purported "test launch":
See the circular graphic on the right wing?  Above it is a black block.  Now look at the right wing in the first picture from 1 second earlier.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Road Spikes are the Last Straw for Me

People have rights, including the right to protest and seek redress for injustice from their government.  If all peaceful means have failed, certain kinds of violence may even be justified.  Our situation in Coyhaique is very different from that, however.

Last night, gangs of (mostly) young men covered sections of roads with these antipersonnel weapons (caltrops) capable of puncturing most vehicle tires, and kids on bikes could be easily maimed, crippled, or blinded by them.  At night, they are all but impossible to see unless under streetlights on light-colored pavement.  Such crimes have been recently excused by the claim that the government has forced protesters to such things. It was also proposed that the youths placing them were actually government agent provocateurs.  Admittedly this is a possibility, but very unlikely.  If any were exposed, it would bring down the government in a heartbeat, hardly worth the risk, and if the government wanted to use this as a pretext for violence, it would not be after attempts to incinerate police officers and their vehicles in Puerto Aysén.  

Last month, I supported the peaceful family marches happily.  I even grudgingly accepted road blocks.  Then fuel ran out. Then cigarettes (one of the best things, IMO).  When I could get to town past protester roadblocks, food rapidly became more scarce at markets, with fresh meat and vegetables going first.

The authorities did very little that was visible, maintaining a minimal street presence. Protests began to become more violent. Moms with signs taped to their baby strollers disappeared from the crowds, people began throwing rocks, and shouting death threats.  Masks appeared and rhetoric seemed to become more radicalized, anti-government, and partisan.  President Sebastian Pinera's government and party were criticized increasingly, and more for ideological reasons from what I could tell than any of the real blunders they committed. Not the least of these were numerous actions and communications expressing both contempt for the protesters and greater concern for protecting their image rather than doing what's best for the nation.

Having said that, the behavior of the protest movement has been worse.  Blockading the citizens and not the military, making commitments in negotiations and then reneging did not help their credibility.  Late one evening, movement leaders announced that limited fuel would be allowed to a couple of gas stations.  After consuming precious fuel to drive into town at 10PM, I waited 3 hours in line before learning the truckers blocking the roads decided not to let the fuel pass.  I barely reached home early that morning, after a dark and worrying drive, wondering where I would have to abandon my wife's car.  Protests turned more violent on subsequent nights, with the physical safety of government negotiators threatened as their cars were surrounded and attacked.  Movement leadership announced they could not control the violence, blaming the government.  Friends (one: a new mother with a small child and her baby both in the car) had similar terrifying experiences.  With all this, the government still did little to confront protesters, showing restraint relative to the level of provocation unimaginable from the perspective of what the law enforcement response would have been in the U.S.

While I always felt blocking vehicles, food, fuel, and even hospital supplies for everyone was counterproductive and foolish, my tolerance was completely eroded.  Criminal violence is not a legitimate first option for anyone, regardless of grievance.

When people predictably began fighting over the last bags of flour in the few remaining shops with any supplies, the government finally went to the blocks and opened the roads.  As far as I know,
this came off without violence.  At that time, black market gasoline was more than 4k pesos/l (approx. $35/gal).


Drunken men stopped our car at burning tires on the road, eying our daughters in a manner making me very aware of the large sticks they carried, and their slurred explanation confirmed we would not be allowed to drive to town now, even to look for food because of the movement...maybe later.  They seem to have liked 80's music as much as I do though, especially Cindi Lauper's "Money Changes Everything".

Last night, another batch of local businesses were sacked and looted, including a pharmacy.  The hospital has run out of important supplies, and after molotov cocktails were thrown on military vehicles, special forces arrived.  In what strikes me as astonishing, this response is widely seen as government repression.

Why should I or the public in general support a movement whose leadership is unwilling to condemn violent crimes and those who perpetrate and support them by co-opting the movement and blaming the government?  In the case of blockading the hospital, these seem like crimes against humanity, and probably would be prohibited during actual wartime.  This seems especially baffling when historically proven methods like the non-violent blocking of government offices has not been attempted. 

This approach could plausibly fix legitimate issues, strengthen support among the community, would not devastate the region financially, would undermine the ability of the government to use violence and aggression, and it would protect the movement. Absent a good explanation for why the movement leaders are not pursuing this, they have little-to-no moral standing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Uncharted 3 Spanish 001

Uncharted 3 in Spanish is a great way for gamers interested in improving beginner's level comprehension.  While most practice will be with "Mierda!", there are lots of learning opportunities. 

Merely hearing beautifully pronounced español latino can improve our ear for the spoken language, even though the construction, grammar, and particular words may be unknown.

In the opening: Todos los hombres sueñan, pero no de igual manera.

Todo = all, and todos is the plural form used for countable objects, referring here to hombres (men).  Los is a the plural form of "the", while sueñan is the plural 3rd person form of of the verb soñar (to dream). Pero no de igual manera may be most literally translated as "but not in equal manner", but what conveys the meaning best might be closer to "not in the same way".  

The Spanish manera differs from "manners" in that it only refers to describing actions; it is not used for describing "bad table manners", for example.  For that, tiene mala educacion is more widely accepted for bad manners, por ejemplo: Él come con la boca abierta (for example: He eats with his mouth open.)

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Response to Baptist Leader's Concerns

My email to First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey:

Good Day,

In a CNN piece, Baptist Church leader "Dr." Buster Soaries asks: "Are Christian people so desperate today that we are gullible en masse?"

Perhaps some are, but there seem to be much larger issues which make "desperation" a minor focus which seems to distract rather enlighten.

Perhaps reframing the question with normal, unbiased language might help us gain clarity:  Assume there is a group who believe that people become invisible zombies after death.  These "spirits" are not only immortal, but also are created by an infinitely knowledgeable, supernatural being with magic powers including telepathy capable of hearing mental conversations beginning with special words and if presented with the right attitude. 

Assume this group further believes that this telepathic being is incorporeal, yet male, and magically created a human son through a sort of rape of a physically real girl, then guided this son to adulthood, prior to having him brutally murdered.  The justification for this is considered to be that because the living aren't perfect, and without this murder, the being would be forced torture the dead immortal zombies forever in order to provide some sort of balance to errors which the zombies had made when they were physically alive.   Further assume this group of believers universally agree these propositions are not only very reasonable views of reality, but that deliberately suppressing doubts and refusing to consider reasonable objections are highly virtuous, should be publicly praised, and a habit in which children should be encouraged.

If presented unemotionally in ways like this, no one would accept the basic claims, and we would rightly regard focusing on “desperation” as a possible motivation for being “gullible” as somewhat beside the point.  The reliability of morals and behavior of people whose worldview is based on foundations explained without emotional hooks seems obvious, and we would not expect such people to behave rationally.  They have been trained and are emotionally invested in rejecting precise definitions, clearly explicated concepts, and skeptical approaches to evidence that would reveal mistakes. 

It seems clear we would be much better served by focusing on how this hypothetical group came, in the modern age, to accept such beliefs and to regard them as meritorious.  In this way, we may pro-actively address the root causes which lead to the kind of harmful and unethical behavior with which Dr. Soaries and many others are concerned.

All the Best,
_______________________________
John C. ‘Buck’ Field