after the sleeping comes the waking up.

Disney, status, and clothing

Posted by c. wagner on November 19, 2009

Interesting reflection on determining the status of Disney characters based on what they look like:

I would later learn that if you are a Disney character who wears clothes, no matter what your species, you can then own pets, who themselves wear no clothes at all, except perhaps for a collar. Pluto runs around naked except for a collar that says “Pluto.” Mickey runs around with yellow shoes, pants, white gloves, and the occasional bow tie; The haberdasheral hierarchy is clear. [page 15]

Clothes make the man? Or mouse?

(From Neil deGrasse Tyson’s The Pluto Files)


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Astrologers and Kuiper belt objects

Posted by c. wagner on November 18, 2009

Astrology is a “discipline” notoriously immune to change. So, what are astronomers to do as more and more good-sized objects, some of them bigger than that formerly-known-as-a-planet … thingie, Pluto, are discovered at the fringes of the solar system?

The article ends with Vanity Fair astrologer Michael Lutin saying that he will consider the newcomers, but remains skeptical of their influence on our daily affairs due to their location at the outer reaches of the solar system: “UB313 is never going to tell you whether Wednesday is good for romance.” [page 149]

Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson declares the discussion over Kuiper belt objects moot, saying

Actually, neither will anything else in the sky, unless it’s an asteroid headed toward Earth, scheduled to hit on Wednesday. [page 149]

That is one forecast I wouldn’t like to find in the newspaper. Sheesh.

(Quotes from The Pluto Files.)

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Studying the solar system in grade school

Posted by c. wagner on November 18, 2009

Everybody reading this remember memorizing the names of the planets (nine for me, probably eight now)? Maybe building a model solar system out of painted styrofoam balls and straightened coat hangers? Maybe some mentions of asteroids and comets, yeah? Neil deGrasse Tyson has some words for you and your teachers.

Because of exercises such as this, elementary school curricula have unwittingly stunted an entire generation of children by teaching them that a memorized sequence of planet names is the path to understand the solar system. … But today, the rote exercise of planet counting rings hollow and impedes the inquiry of a vastly richer landscape of science drawn from all that populates our cosmic environment. [page 153]

As I wander through more reading on life, the universe, and everything (in this case, mostly the stuff about the universe), I’m coming to agree with him. There’s a lot of stuff out there a lot cooler than what was covered in that chapter in my grade school science book. Weirder, too.

And encouraging kids to explore that, rather than teaching them fill-in-the-blank answers, can only make their worlds–and ours–a little bit brighter.

(Quote from The Pluto Files.)

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Just waiting for the bus

Posted by c. wagner on November 13, 2009

If you haven’t seen My Neighbor Totoro, you should.

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Taking a break

Posted by c. wagner on November 13, 2009

Having a bit of writer’s block and I’ve exhausted my backlog of posts. I’ll be spending the weekend building it back up. Wish me luck and enjoy your weekend!

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Unicorns and the Bible

Posted by c. wagner on November 12, 2009

Dudes. I had no idea that unicorns are named in the Bible. Not kidding.

9 Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? 10 Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?

That’s from the book of Job, chapter 39, verses 9 and 10, King James version. That’s right: King James version. The one that so many fringe-dwellers claim is the best and greatest English translation of the Bible.

Some more recent translations substitute “wild ox” for “unicorn”.

Does this mean that the folks who support the Invisible Pink Unicorn have a Biblical basis for their arguments?

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Churches, germs, and technology

Posted by c. wagner on November 12, 2009

Who says that the Catholic church frowns on innovation?

A number of churches are installing a little device from an Italian inventor, in the hopes of cutting down on the spread of disease.

It functions like an automatic soap dispenser in public lavatories – a churchgoer waves his or her hand under a sensor and the machine spurts out holy water.

That’s right. A touchless holy water dispenser. And they’re being installed to stop the spread of disease that would be passed on by the old-fashioned communal bowls or sponges of the blessed fluid.

No word on where the Vatican stands on these changes.

Read the article from the Telegraph.

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Animals, self-interest, rewards, and fairness

Posted by c. wagner on November 12, 2009

Interesting research about how animals seem to have a sense of fair play.

We would offer a pebble to one of the pair and then hold out a hand so that the monkey could give it back in exchange for a cucumber slice. Alternating between them, both monkeys would happily barter 25 times in a row. The atmosphere turned sour, however, as soon as we introduced inequity. One monkey would still receive cucumber, while its partner now enjoyed grapes, a favourite food with monkeys. While that monkey had no problem, the one still working for cucumber would lose interest. Worse, seeing its partner with juicy grapes, this monkey would get agitated, hurl the pebbles out of the test chamber, sometimes even those measly cucumber slices. A food normally devoured with gusto had become distasteful.

Discarding perfectly fine food simply because someone else is getting something better resembles the way we reject an unfair share of money or grumble about an agreed-upon rate of pay. Where do these reactions come from? They probably evolved in the service of cooperation. Caring about what others get may seem petty and irrational, but in the long run it keeps one from being taken advantage of.

And if the system of rewards gets far enough out of balance, the animals getting the poorer rewards may make life tough for the critter with the better rewards. While acting in self-interest is the default, the tendency can be overridden in cases where there might be repercussions from greed. In other words, spreading the wealth, at least a little bit, might be advantageous and part of the make-up of social animals. The concept is at least interesting enough for further research.

Read the article from New Scientist.

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