Description

A Blog of Science, Madness, Incidents and Antics

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Internet Friends

Hey there, Internet!

Internet friends are a weird thing. They're scattered, often anonymous, and you'll likely never meet them. Heck, until recently, there was a good chance you'd never even see their face. It's easy to feel like these people are some sort of cheap knockoff, a pirate version of a real friend that you hauled down over your telephone line.

That's a poor way to think of them though. Internet friends are a bit more like an expansion pack for the Friend game. They're an extra that you can totally do without, but that once you have seems completely perfect. Think of them as the Brood War to your Starcraft. No, anyone? Kids these days, no respect for the classics.

I first encountered other people online sometime when I was about 10 years old. It was the first time we had a really stable ADSL connection, and the first time I actually had a full blown computer with a connection to the Internet. Before this point, we had crappy ADSL or dial-up, hooked in to a family computer that was invariably used by me and my brother. Eventually he got a flashy new desktop, and I got to take over the lumbering old beige beast we'd had since the early 2000's. That thing was my first computer. I'd taken it apart dozens of times. My first real brush with computer hardware a few years earlier was installing an Ethernet card for it. Even once we had Internet I didn't use it much, partly because the Internet was still mostly a weird foreign thing at the time, because this is Africa. Around the time I turned 10, he traded up to a laptop because he had a scholarship for high school in the USA, and I inherited his old desktop. This was where things got real.

Since I was now the main computer user in the house, with my brother away, I was the one who had most of the Internet. We also finally had stable ADSL, which wouldn't support video streaming but could totally handle webpages. So I started wandering the web. I mostly stumbled through fandom wikis and tech blogs, reading what I could and not really interacting. I had a Facebook that I never used, and an Email that was pointless.

And then I discovered IRC and forums. IRC was the first place I talked to people online. I'll do an article on what IRC is later, but for now just know that it's one of the oldest instant messengers on Earth. IRC lets you chat instantly over even the crappiest of lines. I can't even remember which servers and channels I was on, but I was actually talking to people. Of course, I knew the basic rules for Interacting Online:
  1. Don't use your name
  2. Don't tell people who/where you are
  3. Don't agree to meet people
  4. Use you goddamn head
  5. Don't buy anything
Armed with those rules, I was able to navigate freely. I didn't talk much, mostly lurking chats and watching people, but you start to build up images of who these people are. You meet Austrian software developers, American teenagers, Argentinian writers, Australian parents, all these people who showed up to talk to each other. They're all anonymous, using whatever names they like. Some just have something obvious, like Roger or J_Dorian, while others have complete aliases, Wolfgirl and ForMothaRussia. They connect as the sun reaches their home and log-off when they go to bed. You know that Schtern is at work when you're asleep and that Arrakis goes quiet during church on Sundays. Even if you've never seen, will never meet, any of these people, they're your people. They know you, you know them. You have running jokes, you know the bots on the channels, you've seen people sneak off to share pirated music or watched people vanish from the chat forever for unknowable reasons.

Slowly I lost touch, I just stopped going on IRC. Maybe Facebook gaining traction, maybe me starting to play video games more. Who knows, but my circle of friends became far more local than it used to be.

And then the Furry Fandom happened, and it happened hard, when I was maybe 15. Through a complex interaction of my own neuroses I ended up signing up to the South Africa Anthro fandom forum because I was too embarrassed to admit to an actual fur that I just knew this crap without being one. And the cycle began all over again. Forums are a little different. If you weren't around when something was said, you can just scroll back. Posts hang around forever, people post in great bursts during their down time and then vanish for the day. 

An old haunt

Once again, I met new people. Again, aliases from top to bottom, characters like, Aeowyn, a friendly and very British horse. The honourary furry and absolute best person Punk_Fox, other delightful people like Sinkarma and Anonymouse. I only knew a couple in real life, and only because I happened to know them before joining up. There were whatsapp groups, because those now existed. Chatting flew back and forth at a breakneck pace all day, and once again, these avatars became familiar faces with distinct characteristics. Plenty of camaraderie, plenty of drama, plenty of room to learn from others and to feel like part of anything bigger.

And again, stuff broke. I vanished, accounts were deleted. Most of that part of my online prescence was destroyed in a single day. The name stayed on, Kalium_Puceon, because that was something I knew I wouldn't change for a long time. Those friends dropped off the radar, even though if I wanted to I'm sure I could find them right where they always were.

A few years passed, I became the webcomic obsessed, amateur coder that I am now. I got a tumblr, although I don't use it the right way, and I once again shrunk my social circle to the real world.

And then I remembered IRC. What triggered this I have no idea, maybe it was remembering fandom chat, maybe because I knew it was a place where coders hung out and gave advice, slowly dredges of information swirled into my mind. I remembered the the xkcd comic had and IRC channel. "Sounds like a place I could fit in," I probably thought. Well, I was right.

A few months ago I joined the #xkcd channel on irc.foonetic.net. It's the largest channel on a small server, averaging a population of 350. It's full of geeks, the kinds of people who adore the xkcd comics. They're programmers and lab technicians and artists and makers. They'll get into pages of debate over how to resolve a current leak in a laptop charger, and they'll point you in a hundred different directions if you ask for advice. They're tightly knit, and they've been around a while. Most of the users have been chatting for over four years. The channel bot has hundreds of funny quotes from users, in fact, it's been taught so much it sometimes feels like it's alive too. Emergent behaviour is strange.

A new home, for now

And here, in a few months, I've become familiar with a whole new set of people. They're from all over the world, from all sorts of backgrounds. They're gay and straight and bi and ace and trans and cis and black and white and brown and everything in between. They're Internet friends. We know each other. We commiserate when something goes wrong, we share and watch videos. Heck, there was a SpaceX stream a few weeks back where the channel was blazing with discussion. It's our own little piece of Internet, a small space carved out by a bunch of people who said "This will do nicely" and settled down. For the moment, we're all connected, and we're all talking. 

IRC is an interesting medium. It's pure text. You can send URL's usually links to images and interesting webpages, and with some work the bots can form a file sharing system, but, at it's heart, it's text. You never hear the person on the other side. You'll probably never see their face. Unless you're bizarrely lucky, you'll never meet them, and if you do, you might not recognise them. 

Someday I may once again vanish from this channel, never to be seen again. I might not, I might be like those old users who become permanent, a given, someone who's always there to talk to and always will be. Maybe I'll go back to the old fandoms, old places, meet those people again if they're still there. The future is uncertain and confusing, but I can always be sure that no matter what, I'll always be able to find a new space, for new people and old ones, somewhere on that great wide space we call the Internet.

Go out there, and make some friends! Trust me, it'll be fine.

Oh, and if you need to find me, I'll be hanging around on #xkcd most of the time. Look for <Kalium>, I'm always happy to talk. 

Your friendly ex-canine,
Kalium_Puceon\

EDIT: I was 10 not 12, what the heck brain. 

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Why the Keyboard and Mouse will never die [As far as my lifespan is concerned]

Hello there, Internet


This was written on a keyboard. Occasionally, a mouse was involved because Blogger has limited shortcuts and they're weird. As I was writing this, I used keyboard shortcuts to tab between this,  reference sites in Chrome, and an IRC chatroom, which is, of course, all text. I just finished writing a little program to help me clean up text files. All in all, I use a keyboard and mouse to interact with my computer a lot.

So why the heck do people keep saying they're dying?

Seriously, there are too many news articles and blog posts for it to be just luck.

OK, let's read some of these. brb, reading the Internet.

Alright, let's start with keyboards, because that sounds good:

Keyboards!

Alright. We live in a world where you can dictate to your phone and you can compose professional emails on a touchscreen without having to depress a single button. So why the heck do we still have these big ol' clunky button-ridden beasts strapped to every computer! Do away with it! Talk to your device, or type on the screen!

Yeah. Friggin'. Right.

Computerised dictation is actually pretty fast. Faster than most untrained typists. Do you know what the real bottleneck it? Humans, as usual. Dictation software loves long strings of high speed, precise speech. It drinks that stuff up and makes lovely pages of text out of it. What it hates is a single pause, umm or aah while the user decides what they say next. Keyboards let the user start, stop and correct rapidly, as they go, without having to think much about how the tool they're using will respond. Will they have to switch into an edit mode to change what they've just typed? No! (unless your keyboard is really bad)

And touchscreen keyboards? Forget it. They're excellent for short text entry. They're nice because when space is at a premium, you can do a lot with a screen that can change function as you need. But if you have ever had to type an essay or report on a touchscreen you will have endured:
  1. Hitting the wrong key as you move your hand
  2. Did I hit that key or just brush the screen
  3. Ow ow ow fingertips
  4. Oh, it missed the last few letters
  5. No, select the WORD! The WORD! No aw, fuck it, just delete the last line
  6. Oh, I moved the cursor while trying to hit T
  7. Which page of the numpad is & on again?
  8. Please replace my fingertips with acid it'll hurt less
Yeah, these might start sounding familiar. Two of my highschool teachers actually had a bet that one couldn't stand to set an entire exam using nothing but an iPad. The teached won, but said that she would never, ever do it again.

These are just things ordinary computer users have to deal with. If you're a typist, anything less that a high quality keyboard is basically like typing through a pile of mud, and if you're a programmer there's a reasonable chance you interact with your computer through some kind of terminal, and so rely on the keyboard and it's multitude of keys more than anyone else.

Which brings us to the next peripheral of the day:

The Mouse!

The mouse is a more recent addition to the interface family. Back in the day, everything would have been controlled by keyboard commands typed into terminal interfaces. Then someone realised that having to learn 2348234 different commands (Ok it's maybe half that) just to edit a word document was dumb and bad, and invented the idea of an interface you can point at buttons on. And then they went "shit, moving the pointer with arrow keys is freakin' hard." [Assuming your terminal had arrow keys]

AND SO AFTER YEARS OF STUPID SHIT, THE MOUSE WAS MADE

Yes, the mouse! Not necessarily the fastest, but one of the easiest ways to interact with your computer.

And, as the internet would have me know, it's going extinct. RIP the mouse, 1972-2016.

Yeah, as if. Look, the biggest competitor to the mouse is the touchscreen right? Well let me explain to you why touchscreens are useless by comparison. Touchscreens are really, horrifically inaccurate. Look, ok, take out your cellphone, which I'm going to assume is touch screen. If not, then just take one from someone standing next to you. Type out a few words somewhere, I'll offer up the line "is that mean, median, or mode?" courtesy of some random IRC person. Thank you, <wonga_taa>! Now try and select three letters in the middle of a word. Good luck doing that quickly.

Touch screens are not everywhere because they are accurate. Touchscreens are everywhere because they are space-efficient. It's way nicer not to have half your phone/tablet/kiosk taken up by a dedicated keyboard you only use 15% of the time. But they're inaccurate and, if they're not small, incredibly tiring.

Look, I have friends who have laptops with touchscreens. They never use the touchscreen, for several reasons:
  1. Try to hit a single point on a vertical surface half a meter from you with one finger.
  2. Now try moving your hand around on that surface for a couple minutes.
  3. Enjoy your terrible shoulder strain. 
Touchscreens, especially vertical ones, are hard to use. Gauging the distance to it is difficult, so trying not to put your hand through your screen is a pain. Trying to keep your hand elevated to that position is just plain tiring.

And I'm not even onto the truly stupid shit that came after mouses. Like this:

This is from a 2014 article called "Is 3DTouch the death of the computer mouse?". The tagline is the horribly weird sounding line "Death of the computer mouse? Device could be replaced with a smart THIMBLE."

...

There are so many things wrong in this picture.

OK, so reading about this thing, it's a wearable accelerometer-gyroscope package that translates hand movements into mouse movment and sometimes 3D manipulations in software that supports that. Supposedly it can manipulate detect 1mm hand motions. It's a rough, duct-tape and hotglue beta at the moment, but with some work I can definitely see this thing in a nice neat glove package of some kind.

Oh look, here it is. in 2012. Wait a second... and... Another one, in 2013? Why is the mouse still alive? Hasn't anyone told it? Oh wait. That's because I have yet to see a more stable system than a mouse, with the possible exception of really good trackpads.

So first big issues for this are shared with vertical touchscreens. You're really going to hold your hand up there, all the time? And you have to what, turn it off if you want to point at something in the real world? Or will your mouse just fly randomly across your screen when you stand up, because if so then enjoy coming back to a document that looks like it was rearranged with a blender.

And that's not even looking at the marketing. They're trying to sell to 3D designers. Have you ever done any 3D design? grabbing and dragging isn't near accurate enough. Everything is defined in careful splines and radii, with every value typed into a sketch and then dragged out into the world by clever application of extrusions and cuts. On the one hand, if you successfully overturn decades of 3D design ideas in favour of a sculpting system that has only a millimeter of fidelity and as much precision as your muscles have at this very second, well done. Far more likely is you're going to get laughed out of the room, and then the designers will go back to swinging through designs with, at most, a 6 DOF mouse like the Spacetime Navigator. That is about as far removed as I would go from a mouse to do 3D design. Those things are neat.

The mouse and keyboard are wonderfully elegant systems. The mouse is a 2D system that maps short movements on the mousepad to large movements on the 2D screen with beautifully simple accuracy. The keyboard is a methodical, regular grid of buttons, each with their own secure purpose and easy to memorise shortcuts. Feedback of both is tactile and firm, and the outputs of each is certain and sensible. Someday, they will be replaced. Once we can reliably think directly into a computer, once I can compose a tweet by merely thinking it, the keyboard will have seen it's last days. The moment I can select an item on screen by simply looking towards it, the mouse will truly have lost. But until that day, you can keep your voice dictation and you can have your 3D pointing devices. I'll stick to a grid of buttons and a pair of buttons strapped to a camera.

Clickity Clackity, Click Click Click

Kalium_Puceon

Sunday, 21 August 2016

And now for something old, something new, something... Python? I don't know where I was going with this.

 I'm an amateurish programmer, at best. I know enough code to automate simple maths on my computer and maybe to read more complex code, but I'm nowhere near what you could call and actual programmer.

In light of this fact, I've decided to take on a project to improve my skills. I'm going to be writing a game of Chess, in a terminal or Command Line interface, first for two players and then potentially with an AI. I decided on this in the middle of last week, but I started today because the last week has been a hellstorm of tests and I didn't want to fail maths even harder than I already might.

So the first thing to do I figured was to draw a chessboard. Sounds easy enough, right?

WRONG!!!

For some reason, even though a MONOSPACE font is supposed to be, y'know, MONOSPACE, I couldn't get any of them to display chess pieces the right way. So what I got was this:

♜♞♝♛♚♝♞♜
♟♟♟♟♟♟♟♟
□■□■□■□■
■□■□■□■□
□■□■□■□■
■□■□■□■□
♙♙♙♙♙♙♙♙
♖♘♗♕♔♗♘♖


When I should get a nice, evenly spaced font. This was stupid, because I mean who makes a monospace font with unicode support, and then doesn't make it monospace all the way through? Everyone, apparently. So I had to go hunting through first my own extensive fonts list and then online for a good font. Even my symbol-friendly font, Symbola, is bad. In fact, Symbola is worse because it even renders pawns a different width from the rest of the pieces. It's almost like Unicode was hastily scratched together and the pointless crap like this was forgotten in the rush.

I did come across this font which just uses custom drawn chess pieces to represent ordinary ASCII latin characters, but that would be the cheater's way out and a cheap trick. I really wanted to use the Unicode Chess characters for this and I was going to do it right.

Turns out that because of how some fonts work, the squares of the board scale differently from the pieces. This means there's a sweet spot, for some fonts, where the squares are the same size as the pieces. I couldn't be bothered to hunt them all down, but I found that for Lucida Sans Unicode it's size 26. I then spent an age hunting down a font that I could use that wasn't Lucida Sans Unicode, because I wanted something that would render on a console by default.

So I decided to ask IRC, and that resulted in us talking about fonts, and then about font colour, and then about people colour, and then about Trump, and then about aliens, and then about blood, and then about medical tools, and then quackery, and then it got weird. I get distracted easily.

In the end, I decided that I could solve this problem later, and I should get ahead while I could. I decided that I could just use the standard chess notation for each piece to represent it on the board, and ended up with this, which used Courier New as the base font:

╔═════════════════╗
║ r n b q k b n r ║
║ p p p p p p p p ║
║ □ ■ □ ■ □ ■ □ ■ ║
║ ■ □ ■ □ ■ □ ■ □ ║
║ □ ■ □ ■ □ ■ □ ■ ║
║ ■ □ ■ □ ■ □ ■ □ ║
║ P P P P P P P P ║
║ R N B Q K B N R ║
╚═════════════════╝


It's not pretty, but it works. Uppercase characters are white, lowercase is black, because that's the easiest way to polarise letters. Now that I have that, I need to look up all the relevant unicode values for that and write a draw() function in Python. I'll do that when I have finished some studying. 
 
So I should probably say how I plan to go about this. The basic plan is to define a Piece object, and then use that as a base class to create all my other pieces. A piece will be able to say where it can go based on where it is, and it'll exist within an 8x8 array of pieces. At each player's turn, they'll enter a standard chess notation, such as NH8, to move a piece somewhere. If there's multiple ways to interpret that, say, two knights could move to the same square, it'll ask for a root piece, otherwise it'll just move. Of course, if you enter an invalid move, it won't let you just place a piece in a wrong location. It's probably a weird and amateurish way to do it and if you have more experience and a better plan, please tell me. 

UPDATE: As I was about to post this I realised that "And now for something completely different" was, in fact, a Monty Python joke, and so the title actually makes a lot more sense.

Learning to code better
Kalium_Puceon

Thursday, 4 August 2016

isoburn.exe [and other hidden features that I do not have time for]

Hey there, Internet!

Did you know that Windows 10 has a built in feature to burn ISO's to a disc? No, neither did I. Do you know why? I'll pretend I heard a chorus of "No, Kalium!" and say that it's not listed anywhere. 

[Well, aside from if you search for it's name but that's just like the Isla de Muerta, you can only find it if you know where it is.]

In fact, as far as I can tell, the ISO burning utility is only accessible through the command line interface, which, while something I know my way around, is not the place most people would go when they want to burn something to disc.

For those of you curious, the command is isoburn.exe /q <Disk Drive Letter> <ISO path>

e.g. "isoburn.exe /q E: D:\Kalium\Documents\Linux\Debian-8-1-6.iso"

[Do you notice how Windows also uses weird slashes in their filesystem. They even know it's weird, you could use the other ones and the system would automatically correct for it.]

So yeah, now you know. This may seems like a small problem, but I keep seeing myself doing these kinds of things, namely, using a convoluted and hidden system to do things that should be openly available. Similarly, having to go back to my command line to shut down my PC just because my start menu crashed is something that shouldn't happen. Yes, I can do it but your average windows user is just gonna unplug their PC or hold down the power key and that's not cool, man.

As is often the case in times like these, there's an XKCD comic that perfectly describes this feeling:

 "Oh, you're using their Chrome APP, not their Chrome EXTENSION. They're very similar but one handles window creation differently." is a thing I hope I can stop saying soon.

Yes, it's cool that I can beat my computer into submission no matter what it does, but doing it on a regular basis makes me feel like I'm working on a high-schooler's programming project, not a professionally made piece of software. 

Imagine if, every few days, you had to go to your car and clean the fanbelt. It's not super hard, and you'll probably be pretty good at it. There's ways around having to clean it but it's not time consuming so plenty of people just clean it every week. Doesn't sound great, does it? That's what this is like. Every time I have to make chrome load a separate set of pages so that they all load together or I have to open a program in Windows because the App is too slow I die a little inside.

[On that note, I know that 10 made apps better but seriously, did anyone ever need those hulking, hideous, heavy horrors sucking up their resources and screen space?]

I'm totally OK cleaning up my own messes. I broke the absolute crap out of my Windows 8 [And also my XP... And 98... And CentOS... And Debian. Really if the Terminators ever come just let me try and upgrade them is what I'm saying] at one point because I dicked around with the registry and I totally deserved not being able to use Win+E for that. I can deal. What I can't deal with is when doing something that I should be allowed to do all the time causes some world-breaking bug that renders half my system useless or makes me use some clumsy work around solution.

In summary: Programmers, fix your shit so that when people use it it doesn't kill itself. It should be embarrassing for you and it is frustrating for us.

And if you don't I will break it in my attempts to make it better.

Techily Yours

Kalium_Puceon

PS: Seriously, Fuck UEFI, I like being able to dual boot but the fact that I actually have two different bootloaders installed on my laptop is frankly ridiculous.

PPS: If anyone can help me put together a GRUB file to run windows 10 I will accept it thankfully.

PPPS: Alternatively if you could just tell me how to ditch GRUB entirely and get everything to boot on my Windows bootloader I could deal with that too.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

EDIT: As I posted this I was reminded that for some reason, software updates fail more often than not and brick your device. I actually had my PC try and fail to update a good 20 times this last week, and my friend over at nerdlymusings completely bricked her phone for a day because iOS updates!

In her words: "Took me about 10gb of data, a whole day, two versions of iTunes, two downloads of two different versions of iOS, at least 10 changes to my hosts file, 3 restarts of my PC and disabling all my firewalls and antivirus to get it done."

Well if that's not encouraging I don't know what is.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Percentages! They're less than you think!

Woo boy-

I have had the frameworks for this post lying around since February because I got to see a lot of shaky maths during university admin and now I'm going to rant about it, so!

Grade A stuff that you should not be teaching kids because it confuses the crap out of them when they actually have to understand why the thing happens not just blindly apply it to a system they learnt from school or other scowling elders, seriously guys this is getting ridiculous.

Right, that may seem like a really long thing to put in heading font. I don't care.

Do you know what I do care about? Percentages.

Even if you absolutely abhor maths, even if you're a liberal arts major, you know what a percentage is. 50% means half. 25% means a quarter, 33% is about a third, etc. This got stuffed in there somehow during your childhood, probably.

Somewhere along the line you were probably told how to get, say, your percentage for a test. It looks something like this.

(your mark/max mark) * 100

My problem is with that little *100 at the end.

Let's do some etymology: What the heck does the word "percent" mean.

It's direct Latin really. "Per" means "for every", basically, divide by. It's why we say 20 km per h, it's twenty kilometers for every hour.

Then the cent. You should know this if your currency has cents- It's one hundred.

Therefore, percent means "for every hundred."

This makes sense, if you know where to get at. 50% means 50 for every 100, or a half, one over two. AKA, 0.5.

BUT if you tell a kid that to get a percentage, you multiply 0.5 by 100, it starts to get confusing. Which is the percent, 50 or 0.5? What the fuck is a percent sign even there for? Why do I multiply by one hundred.

The answer from a math point of view is that you don't. When you say 86%, what you are saying is 86/100. That percent symbol stands for "out of one hundred." So the maximum mark on your test, 100%, is 100/100 which is just 1. Every other mark less than that is a fraction between 0 and 1. 

It's a nice way to work with things, because it means that if you want to find 75% of, say, a 2m long rod, you just plug in 2*0.75 and you'll get 1.5, because maths is the best. But when you tell someone that you do that weird multiply by 100 trick, they might be like "oh, yeah, it's 2*75" and then you get 150m which is not just wrong but embarrassingly so.

This isn't so harmful at a high school level where you deal with ratios and percentages separately and they never so much as mention the fact that percentages are just fractions held to a standard, but when you start doing engineering and you get told that the reflectivity of a substance is 70% and you don't know that that's just 0.7, then we get stuff falling out of orbit because someone couldn't keep the solar panels alive.

So yeah, there's my piece on percentages. Hoping that next time you see a fraction out of 100, you see it for what it is and not the double-order-of-magnitude lie that the MAN wants you to think it is.

Semper Mathematica!
Kalium Puceon

Sunday, 24 April 2016

On Being Grossly Underweight.

Hi, I can probably be blown over by a strong breeze.

This isn't a comment on my strength. I'm actually reasonably fit for someone who doesn't actively maintain their fitness. No, instead I am a lightweight in the most literal sense of the word.

I'm an adult male, 18.5 years old: 170cm [that's 5' 6½" for you savages] and weigh in at about 50kg [110lbs]. That is low, by pretty much every metric. I should know because I have looked.

At the moment, pretty much anywhere you look, everyone is about losing weight, for a pretty understandable reason. This paper [which poses some interesting questions about how we measure sustainability] suggests that around 35% of the world population is overweight by BMI standards. Frankly I think the BMI standard is a bit harsh, and should take overweight as a score of about 27-30, rather than 25, but I guess we have to trust the scientists. That number is still probably around 20% even with my suggestion. Either way, the point is that there are a fair number of people who are at risk of their weight.

There are however, even more people who think they are at risk of their weight. These are the people to whom industries market diet pills and boot camps and "drop 5 pounds [or however much that is in kilograms] this week" programs. While I could go on a crazy long rant about how these industries are preying on fabricated fears, I won't because that's not the main focus of this post.

No, the main focus is how weird it is to be underweight for no reason. Remember how I said that weight-loss-as-an-ideal is everywhere? I mean everywhere. When I go onto health sites, specifically looking for how to gain weight, I get a pop-up ad about their new free weight-loss guide. There's a banner advert about these three weird foods that burn fat fast, and sometimes the suggested links point me to how to lose weight.

It's not just adverts. Way back in the mists of one year ago when I was in High School, our Life Skills course featured a fair amount of fitness stuff. I remember how it almost never talked about anything but losing weight, reducing calorie intake and reducing fat content. In fact the only time it did talk about how low weight was bad was the Eating Disorders section. [n.b. I do not have an eating disorder. This does not stop people from thinking you have one though.]

On that last point, I am being dead serious. I walked past a few girls discussing what anorexia was a few years back and one of them grabbed me by the wrist, dragged me into their conversation and basically said "This is anorexia."

Yeah, rude much. Welcome to the next six or more years of weird complexes. The level to which society has drilled the "lose weight" mantra into everyone is so great that even I, who has, as my friend puts it, "The physique of a McDonalds Potato Chip", sometimes feel overweight. Yeah, it's that bad.

And don't you dare complain about how hard it is to gain weight: Most people will roll their eyes and mutter "How tragic it must be..." when you mention that you aren't even a standard deviation above a genuine disorder. Eventually some people will realise that it is just as bad to be under-as-overweight, but in general it's not the kind of thing for which you get sympathy. You get glares and groans.

So, in spite of my attempts to gain weight, the new shift to University with odd hours and lots of walking is taking it's toll, and I am losing weight again. For context, if I drop another kilo I will be more or less at the upper end where the DSM-5 considers that you might have Anorexia Nervosa. Mild, yes, but still not what I would like to see. 

Your Ever-Scrawny Blogger
Kalium

P.S. If anyone can recommend something to help out I would greatly appreciate it.
P.P.S. @ The USA please stop using Imperial units seriously it stopped being funny when I had to do calculations with cubic feet per second and degrees Fahrenheit.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Act HB 1523, aka: That Law that let's you reject LGBTQIA people.

 Hi: I'm pissed.

Alright so if you've been following the news you should know that Mississippi signed in a law, specifically HB 1523, which makes it legal to, more or less, segregate the hell out of people who aren't cisgendered and heterosexual or who have had premarital sex, because the people of Mississippi definitely need to be able to refuse to do pretty much anything for people who disagree with their religion.

I'm bisexual cis man, to put it simply, and so I have a pretty big investment in LGBTQIA laws sorting themselves out in my favour because I want to be able to date a dude in the near future without having to dodge the law to do so. In South Africa, the law, if not the people, is totally OK with this. In the USA, it's fucked, no other words for it.

So because I'm a pedantic little dude, I read the act, and made a nice summary for you. I skipped out a few sections and heavily summarised others; you can read the original I used to write this over here.

Alright, let's get into this shit-storm of an Act.



Section 1 names the act as the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act."

The act starts by giving a brief summary of its goals.

All are defended from the state government taking any discriminatory action against them due to "sincerely held religious belief[s] or moral conviction[s] for persons, religious organizations and private associations."

So now we get into where the bullshit starts: If you skim the Act you see the words "Religious Beliefs and Moral Convictions" cropping up a lot. Now, defending those, while questionable given how much already protects them, sounds alright. However, that's not what this law does. Specifically this act defends exactly three religious beliefs or moral convictions



Section 2
  defines what these convictions actually are, namely:

(a)  Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;

(b)  Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and

(c)  Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.


So already this is only defending your religious and moral tendencies if they align with being homphobic, sexually conservative and transphobic. So while it doesn't defend your right as, say, a Muslim to refuse to help someone who wants to shove pictures of the Prophet in your face, it does protect your fragile Straight Cis ego from being harmed by having to officiate a gay marriage.

It also means that if you want to or have had sex before marriage that the following services could be declined on that basis.



Section 3: What this act lets you do in accordance with the above: This is where you get to see what kind of things can be taken away from you for being Not Straight and Cis, also possibly having had sex before marriage.

1a) May decline officiation of a marriage and associated services.

Gee I wonder who that's talking about. See thanks to Section 2 this only applies to couples who've had premarital sex or who are same-sex. In the original law these all end with the spiel about "Religious Beliefs and Moral Convictions" which reference back to those three beliefs up in Section 2.


b) Allows employment and discipline/termination decisions. Keep this one in mind because it's going to make you want to punch a wall in a few minutes.

It means that you can not be hired or even be fired from your job for not being Straight and Cis, as well as if you have sex before marriage if that is the view of your employer, be they a person or a company with a religious alignment.


c) Provision and Conditions of Sale, Rental or Occupancy of housing:

So yeah you can be kicked out of your house for the above reasons.


2) Refusal of Private and Govt. Adoption/Foster Care:

If you're going to recommend that Adoption is an alternative to Abortion the least you could do is not shrink the adoption pool by a sizeable amount. Come on guys.


3) The state government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person who the state grants custody of a foster or adoptive child, or who seeks from the state custody of a foster or adoptive child, wholly or partially on the basis that the person guides, instructs or raises a child, or intends to guide, instruct, or raise a child along the beliefs outlined in Section 2.

[This one I'm still kind of unclear on the exact meaning, but I garner it means that you can teach a kid that Gay is Bad and that Trans is Bad and the government can't do shit about it.]


4) May decline providing Sex Reassignment or Gender Idenity Therapy, as well as Psychological, Counselling or Fertility: Does not extend to emergency treatments or legally required care

Jeez guys are you even trying to make this look like it's not discriminatory. You fell just short of saying that we just hate trans people.


5) May decline providing goods or services for celebrating a marriage, such as DJ-ing, Floral Arrangements, Cakes and the like

Woo boy this one is good, because of that whole Section 2 mess it pretty much means the only grounds under which this applies is if the marriage is same-sex or if the people involved have had premarital sex.


6) Allows for sex specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming, or concerning access to restrooms, spas, baths, showers, dressing rooms, locker rooms, or other intimate facilities or settings.


Thanks to that bit about Sex = Immutable Biological and Genetic something or other in the first part, this basically means that trans people have to follow the rules which apply to their assigned gender if their employer or school wishes it to be so: Gee has anything like this happened recently?


7a) Govt. Workers may express their religion in a way equivalent to the way other religions are expressed in their workplace

b) Govt. Workers cannot be held to check for what they say outside of work more than anyone else could.

In short government workers can express those three freedoms at work the same way other religious beliefs may be expressed. Outside of work what they say can't be held against them when they are working.


8a) Govt. employees who may authorise or licensing marriages may recuse having to provide these services

b) Any person who can perform or solemnize marriages may recuse themselves of this.

Both of these require that the Admin. Office of the Courts take steps to ensure that legally valid marriages are not impeded but we know how that will go down.


This allows people who don't want to do their jobs because it would involve marrying people who have already had sex, gay or trans people, to pass the job off until it gets to someone who will do it. The courts technically have to check each of these cases to ensure that it doesn't impede a legal application to marry but simply the ability to recuse will allow marriage applications to be greatly delayed because government offices are bad enough as is.



Section 4, or as I like to call it: Shit the government can't do to you because you're an ass because of this Act:
1a) Tax Penalties cannot be levied against you.

b) Disallow, deny or otherwise make unavailable a deduction for state tax purposes of any charitable contribution made to or by such person;

[I don't quite understand the full meaning of this one so it's a direct quote someone please help me out I am not an expert.]

c) Modifying/Withholding Grants, Contracts, Loans, Scholarships etc. to punish you

d) Modify/Withhold State Benefit Programs to punish you

e) Fining you

f) Modify or Withhold Licenses, Certifications, Accreditations, Diplomas, Recognitions or Statuses you hold

g) Withhold Hiring or Promotion, Fire, Demote, Sanction, Discipline or alter contracts, otherwise effect adverse employment action

[Remember when I told you to keep Section 3.1 b? Yeah, this is why. You can legally fire someone from their job for being gay and simultaneously you are protected from being fired or disciplined by the government for doing so. Yes your company could do so if they were so inclined but really, I feel like some companies will love this.]


2) People who are accredited, licensed or certified are to be seen as such except for when someone expresses a belief in accordance with Section 3:

This one is strange because as I understand it means that people who are certified to do something don't have to risk their certification by saying something in line with the entire Section 3 mess.



Sections 5-8 cover what to do if this law is violated and what kind of claims can be laid at whomever they should be claimed at. For my purposes of this summary these are not that important, if you need to read them please go ahead and use the link at the top of this article to get access to the original document.



Section 9 as I like to call it: What is this act for, exactly?

1) Protects the free exercise of Religious Beliefs and Moral Convictions [read as: those three ones we listed in Section 2] to the limit of state and federal allowances.

2) Provide additional protection above and beyond the already in place belief defense laws.

Yes because of all the things we need to defend at the moment it's those particular three freedoms, those are definitely at risk right now and that's a bad thing.

3)Act applies to and supersedes any statute, ordinance, rule, regulation, order etc. of the state that would impinge upon the act, unless the thing impinging is expressly exempt from this act.





Section 10
provides several definitions, most of which I will let you look up as you need. It might not be a bad idea to look it over in the original and read through it again. I won't summarise it because there's probably some intricate meaning in those definitions that I don't want to screw up.



Section 11
covers the exclusion of the prior sections from the application of other sections



Section 12 states that this act comes into force from July 1, 2016, which is pants-shittingly-soon.



Yes, this kind of bullcrap got passed and will be coming into effect in about three months if it's not repealed. So please, look up a representative of your choice to send a shouty email to and demand it get fixed because you will not stand for this.

There are plenty of things from the past that are great today. Beethoven, yeah. The Internet is great. Definitely Freddie Mercury is one of my favourite things from the 20th century. What is radically uncool is bringing segregation with us into this century.

Look, here's a thing. You have never heard of the people against the promotion of human rights winning. There are no movies glorifying the cops who punched suffragettes. No one wants to hear about the guy who fought the emancipation movement to his dying day. No one worships the guy who wanted to keep Apartheid going another decade. Those people always get the short end of it. Why is it so hard to see that equality is not only the right move, but the smart move. Just fucking do it and make sure the world sucks less in the future.

Signing off, your friendly neighbourhood blogger.

Kalium_Puceon

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The really sad stories of Baldr [Also: What the Hel, Loki?]

So you guys might remember that time I told you about the absolutely batshit crazy LEGENDS OF THE NORSE! 

Yeah, you remember that, right. Otherwise, you should go read it. It's cool, I promise.

Anyways, since then I've been reading a bunch more of the original Prose Edda, which is more or less the Big Ass Viking Book of Big Ass Viking Legends. I'm working between an old PDF I got at some point and this translation on Project Gutenberg. They're more or less identical except for some spelling differences, so I'm using the ones I remember best, like Aesir vs. Asas or Baldr vs Balder

PS: I'm going to switch between using Aesir and God but they mean the same thing.

And one particular god caught my eye as being really story worthy.

That's right, BALDR!

He's pretty much the most awesome and nice guy you can imagine. Actually, scratch that, imagine the most awesome and nice guy you can imagine. Now take him, and dunk him in a vat of gold and unicorns and kittens and pure endorphins and bake at 190 degrees for an hour because Baldr is more or less the most incredibly nice and awesome guy in the universe.

Like, this is a quote taken from the original Prose Edda about Baldr and his whole deal:
"Odin’s second son is Baldr, and of him good things are to be told. He is the best, and all praise him. He is so fair of face and so bright that rays of light issue from him; and there is a plant so white that it is likened unto Baldr’s brow, and it is the whitest of all plants. From this you can judge of the beauty both of his hair and of his body. He is the wisest, mildest and most eloquent of all the Aesir; and such is his nature that none can alter the judgement he has pronounced. He inhabits the place in heaven called Breidablik, and there nothing unclean can enter."
Yeah, he's a big-ass cinnamon roll wrapped in rainbows. That cannot be overstated at this point.

And he dies, horribly. Don't you just love the Vikings.

And as usual, this is all Loki's fault. Loki should really be the God of Ruining Everything. I mean, he already kind of is, but that should be his official title. God of Mischief kind of makes you think of Whoopee cushions more than elaborate deathtraps.

On to the story. So Baldr is the most awesome and lovable thing in existence and everyone wants to keep him safe. So when he started having nightmares that literally everything was going to kill his ass dead, people were kind of upset.

So Baldr tells Daddy Odin about this, and when Frigg, Odin's wife, finds out she's all "if anything touches my son i will fucking cut its ass bitch."

So Frigg decides that she can actually protect Baldr from everything. So she goes around the entire universe and gets a promise from everything that it won't harm Baldr.

Now, you might not have been paying attention, but I said everything. That means she went to every rock, every tree and giant and even told fire that it wasn't allowed to burn him. Well, when I say everything, I mean almost everything.

While she was heading back home after nagging the hind leg off of every single thing [regardless of if it had a hind leg or even legs at all], she saw a small plant growing by the side of the road, a mistletoe shrub. The plant was young and new or something, so she decided to let it slide this time. Who can expect a plant so young to promise anything? That is totally the logical question to ask. Not "how the hell is that tree talking good gods bring me my fainting couch."

Anyhow, because everything meant everything, all the gods also knew about Baldr's new abilities. So, being the energetic little godlings they are, their first order of business at dinner every night was to duct-tape Baldr to a pillar and throw whatever they could find at him. Y'know, ordinary sibling stuff, but with darts and axes. These are your Gods: don't you feel special.

So Loki can just smell the Chekov's Gun somewhere so he disguises himself as a woman [which he does waaaay too often for it to be just for work] and saunters over to Frigg, who is presently watching Baldr potentially get the crap beat out of him. The gods, you may have noticed, are not the sharpest crayons in the box, so Frigg gets into small talk with Loki and tells him "O BTW, there's a little tree outside Asgard that could totally kill Baldr's ass dead. Thought you should know."

Yeah, I present the gods. Look upon them and say WHYYYY?

Loki, of course, rushes out to grab this little bush from wherever, which he then fashions into some kind of spear. He wanders back into the mead hall, where Hod is feeling a little down.

Why? Because he's blind. That's why. Why is he blind?

Oh my god Loki you can't just ask people why they're blind!

So he's upset because, being blind, he can't throw shit at Baldr. So Loki, comes along and is like "Hey Hod, I know you can't usually throw stuff at Baldr but how about I help you? Here, hold this." Loki then points Hod at Baldr and it's Bombs Away! Well, spears away!

The spear, being made of Mistletoe, flies right through Baldr. Right through the heart. Hod I thought you were blind what the Hel. How did you do that.

Baldr promptly does the dying thing and Loki probably snickers to himself like a Scooby Doo Villain. Hod is probably really confused as to why everyone is screaming at him and generally shit is just going down.

Now there's a whole legalistic pile of something where Hod runs away and that turns his charge from manslaughter to murder or something but that is literally a whole other story. So back to Loki and his immense propensity for mucking things up.

So since Baldr is the most sweetest cinnamon roll ever, Frigg asks who will go and win his soul back from Hel, from Hel. No that's not a mistype, the realm of Hel is presided over by a woman named Hel, incidentally also one of Loki's kids. Along with a giant serpent, an apocalyptic wolf and an octupus-horse. Must have been a fun childhood with those siblings. Anyhow, an Aesir named Hermod decides to undertake this task, and rides off towards the underworld on Sleipnir, The horse Odin lends to him and incidentally, one of Loki's kids.

While Hermod rides off to rescue Baldr's soul, the gods go ahead with his burial, which is a pessimistic move at best. This burial pretty much set the standard for badassery when it come to dying almost as much as The Mausoleum. They laid his body on a boat, set it up on the docks and set it on fire. Along with his body went a magical ring that has it's own host of story, but basically divides into nine more rings every nine days. and then those nine rings divide every nine days and so on. You get the idea. Magical way to crash the stock market. This ring has it's own crazy story which also involves Loki fucking up so I'll get to that later.

When Baldr's wife, Nanna, saw this [because apparently no one though they should tell the widow] she was so grief-stricken she died. Like just fell over dead of shock. Rather than build another damn boat to set alight, they sort of split the difference and tossed her on the boat as well.

They set the boat out to sea, so now there was a massive flaming funeral pyre floating out over the ocean. Around this time, a dwarf named Lit [which is like foreshadowing at it's best] runs in front of Thor. Thor, being pissed at the death of Baldr, decides it is really not this dwarf's day. Thor kicks Lit's ass so hard he flies out to sea and lands in the flaming boat. Collateral damage, you might say. All the while literally thousands of monsters, frost-giants and other random shit is rolling in to see the funeral of Baldr, the awesome dude who they all promised not to kill [unless you're Loki].

Anyhow, back to Hermod. He rocks up in Hel, so he can talk to He. Presumably it took him ages to find the throne room, because half the people he asked sent him towards the town center rather than towards their ruler.

Of course, he finds Baldr sitting right next to Hel, on the spare throne. Presumably Hel and Baldr had been bumping nasties, but none of the original scripture says that. [N.B. Hel's nasties really were nasty because she was decaying from the waist down. Loki's kids are just a barrel of laughs, eh?]

Hel, presumably not wanting to let go of her new toy, gives Hermod a challenge: If he can get every. fucking. thing. to cry for Baldr's death. Once again, everything. Hermod, knowing they've done this kind of thing before, rides back home to tell the Aesir the good news.

The gods promptly take command of the post office and send messengers everywhere to get everything to weep for the sweet cinnamon roll. The messengers return, trumphant, having slightly dehydrated all living things. Well, almost. The Aesir discover a lone giantess in a cave. She is 100% not Loki in a dress again, no siree, the sign on the door says so.

Yeah it's totally Loki in a dress.

And of course, "Thok" refuses to weep for Baldr. Surprise surprise. The Gods are pretty pissed but they lose their bet and Baldr is stuck with Hel.

But this time, Loki doesn't get off that easily. In fact it's kind of ridiculous how much his punishment sucks. Loki, knowing he had just pulled some shit, had taken to hiding out in the rivers around Asgard disguised as a salmon [presumably wearing a dress].

The Aesir finally caught up with him, so he dove into the river as a salmon. In the house he had made the Gods found all sorts of thing that Loki had been testing to see if they would catch a fish, among them, the first ever net. After several attempts that involve Loki leaping over the net as a fish, Thor grabbed him so hard that his tail got squished, hence why all salmon are pointy-tailed.

Then comes the really ridiculous part of his punishment: The gods found another pair of Loki's kids, Vale and Narfe. They turned Vale into a wolf and Vale just went to town on Narfe. Then they took Narfe's intestines and used them to tie Loki to a rock. With his kid's fucking organs. Seriously. Some other Aesir then secured a salivating serpent right over his face. This was back in the day before we understood how poison works so imagine that this snake leaks boiling oil.

Loki's waifu, Sigyn, is waaaay too nice to this nerd. She has a bowl that she holds under this leaky serpent, so that Loki's pretty face doesn't get fucked up. However, bowls are limited in size, so she has to go dump it out sometimes. And then Loki gets a facefull of burny face sauce. And Loki, who is buff as hell it seems, writhes so much in pain that he's now the God of Earthquakes. So even in his punishment Loki still fucks our shit up.

So yeah, that's the story of Loki pulling one of his more dick moves at the Gods, and getting punished for it. In summary, God gets superpowers, Loki kills god, Loki prevents god from being revived, Loki is hunted, Loki is tied up with his kid's guts and left to soak in poison until the end of times.

I'll do another one of these at some point, but for now, cheers!

K.P.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Why School Success Sucks: In Hindsight

Hey there, internets!

I've just finished High School. I got into my degree and everything. So now I've been through the whole basic schooling system, and I will admit that I do not understand it in the slightest. Well, I've got the best firsthand perspective I'm gonna get, and anything more will require research, so before this all fades, let me write something.

I'm pretty smart, in an analytical sense. I'm not going to temper that for this post's sake. In the STEM subjects I do really, really well. Languages, eh, less so. Point remains that I do pretty well for myself. I answer questions in class, I do pretty well on exams, I get my A's and high B's, heck, I had three 90's and two 80's on my final report. If you want to meet people who are actually good at school, look at these two insane people over here. Between them, they pretty much score in the top 3 every single term. But I'm going to talk about me now.

I was never that good at school itself, and I'm still not great. I'm ADHD inattentive type, so I struggle to focus in class unless the subject really holds my attention. It also means that I make careless mistakes really easily, like accidentally forgetting to do entire questions or missing crucial information. The fact that I only went on Ritalin drugs late 2014 means that for most of my schooling career I was spacey as hell. Even now, I lose a lot of my marks to simple errors. I did the bare minimum of homework and almost never finished classwork, being forever distracted, unless I was in science class or doing research.

The point is, in spite of that, even since I was in grade 1, teachers and other students have decided that I am smart and therefore know what's going on. This is because I read a lot, and so I knew about stuff outside of school curriculum. If you learn at school, then go home and only learn from your textbooks, you're missing the thousands of related topics that just can't or won't be covered in school lessons. Eventually, however, a lot of that outside information becomes curriculum, and suddenly you seem to be really smart and quick to learn when really you just learned the stuff a while back.

So, some things happen when you're perceived as the smart one. People expect you to know everything, people think you don't need their help anymore, and people kind of take your instantaneous trajectory and assume you'll be like this forever. And it sucks, a lot.

1. People think you know everything
and then get shocked when you don't. Seriously. Especially when you're the only one who bothers to answer questions in class. When you get the answers right every single time, getting something wrong will cause a resounding chorus of "ooohs" and "yoos" across the class. Even the teachers will act like you've suddenly scored a zero or the year if you have one bad day. Yeah, I scored a C on that test. Horrifying, I know.  People will ask you arbitrary questions to which you probably don't know the answer and you are expected to answer it straight away. Rumours grow that you can do all kinds of things you really can't. You either have to try to keep up with and match the rumours or see the heartbreaking confusion in people's eyes when they realise you aren't made of fucking magic and gold. In my case, I often have to pretend to know a bit about something in order to get time to research it. Is it unhealthy, yes. Should I stop, definitely. Am I going to, almost definitely not.

2. People think you don't need any more lessons
How do you think I learnt all this stuff then? When I show up at extra science or maths lessons, the people there, who are usually the ones failing, are shocked. "What are you doing here?" "You don't need this?" Umm, no. While I learn stuff from books, in order to do well at school, you need to know what the school wants you to know. The only reason I can be so good at science is because I do go to the extra classes. Teachers feel like you can afford to miss out on lessons because "Oh, it's him, he probably knows more about science than I do": That may or may not be true, but I do not know more about the incredibly specific and very convoluted science that our school curriculum requires. I'm good because I have lessons, and if you take them, I'll need them even more.

3. People assume you're going to be this way forever
This is the worst of the lot. Let's say in grade 3 you were really, really good at science and maths. People will often assume that, for the rest of your life, you will be good at science and maths and you will go on to be an engineer or a scientist or whatever. But really, Science and Maths in grade 3 is a far cry from the stuff you reach further on. You might find that you actually adore business. Or maybe you'll take a shining to acting? Who knows! Heck, you might get a crappy maths teacher one year and your love for maths will be dashed upon the rocks! It happens to everyone else, why not to the people who love it most? All it takes is one bad day, and anyone, even, no, especially the most highly-strung overachievers, can plummet into a slump.

This can be really, really annoying. Teachers do not usually like students who explain work that hasn't been taught yet to the others. They also don't usually like being corrected when they say something wrong. Some [good ones] are fine with it, but most get upset and start going ad hominem on your ass.

Universally, however, the teachers decide that you're too smart to be allowed in the group environment, and want you to give others a chance. Now, that would be great, if literally anyone else actually wanted to participate in the group environment. Have you ever actually asked a group of pupils a question in class? Dead. Silence. Some because they don't know, others because they don't want to risk being wrong. So, when the teacher gets pissed of the same numbskull savant putting their hand up and answering every question, they start to tell you to stop. That's me, all the time. Eventually you get something wrong, and point 1) comes into play again.

Another point, that is really a major frustration for me that I think I've talked about before, is knowing more than your teachers. Pretty much every single one of my teachers tell my parents these gems on Meet the Teachers Evening:

"He probably knows more about the subject than I do."

"Honestly sometimes I don't even understand what he's saying but he's right."

Yeah no. That is not what should be happening. Yeah, if I was some kind of MaddeLisk type genius, yeah, expect me to beat you out. But I just read books and browse wikipedia and subscribe to science websites. You can and should be doing that, as a teacher of the sciences, you should be keeping up, not laughing casually and saying "Ah, I remember the days when I had to learn stuff. Good times."

This is why I was really upset about school a lot, and why I'm so glad to be moving off and onwards. Hopefully there's better times ahead, or at least a different set of problems for me to complain about.

Your Graduated Citizen

K.P.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Free

I'm done with high school. Actually done, not just the done that you get after completing an exceptionally arduous assignment.

Technically, High School ends on Friday, the 27th. That's when everyone's done. But I don't write any of those papers, so here I am. It's been a decade and a half of the school system. Everything from here on out is pretty much optional. I'm 100% sure I passed high school, so repeating isn't even a worry. What is a problem now in university.

Fortunately for me, South African universities are actually affordable to the middle class, so I don't have to muck about with the kind of loan mess an American student would. All that remains is seeing whether or not I get into the course I want.

And that is incredibly terrifying.

By the end of January, I'll have my results. Those results say whether or not I end up in a Mechatronics degree, like I want, or if I'm going to wind up back home doing Biology or Electrical Engineering. Until then I can't do anything at all, so I'm just going to have to try my hardest not to think about it.

For fifteen or so years I've been in the school system. It's always pretty similar, too. Be at school by 0710, lessons start. You like some and not others. You chat with your friends [or friend as was the case for a long-ass time] during breaks. You get structured and directed homework that practically shouts what the next section will be.

That's all gone now. So yeah, It's pretty weird. You don't get to just shake off that much Stockholm Syndrome once you're gone. School sucks, and I will tell that to pretty much anyone I meet. By and large, I would have been happier to finish the rigid structure of school earlier. I don't want to have to understand the intricacies of a language I was never taught how to use. I don't want to learn how to run a business. I don't really need you to explain [incorrectly, might I add] for the fifteenth time how and electron microscope works.

That's why I'm interested for University. It's all the stuff I want to do. Maths, Physics, more Maths, and some more intense Physics. Maybe a bit of chemistry and probably a whole lot of Computer Science [which is basically Maths.] I want to see what I can do with a wider playing field, with people who [at least by second year] also want to be there.

I get frustrated when teachers put on my report cards "sometime he seems to know the subject better than I do" because it means that either

a) My teacher can't be arsed to keep up with their own field or
b) I am ridiculously smart [spoiler: I am not] or
c) That I can somehow get more information out of a textbook than the person who is teaching from it

I want teachers who know more than me. Teachers who can actually tell me things I don't already know. Teachers who don't give a crap whether or not everyone is done because look at the time if we don't move on you'll not finish this class this semester. I am done with the school system, and hell, it's about time.

Your roving graduate
-K.P.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

A Brief Rant on Socialisation vs. Social Networks

Hi there, readers!

Read pretty much any newspaper or website or tabloid today and you can be almost certain there's some article where someone complains about the way that social media has made us less social, how cellphones and electronics have detached us from the world and how the only way to get around it is to go back to writing letters to each other with fountain pens on parchment and mailing it in a wax sealed envelope to your friends in Europe, who hopefully have taken his other advice and have decided to churn their won butter using cream from their own goats.

So I will admit that social media does differ vastly from our past ways of socialising. Socialising face-to-face is different from sending a letter, which is different from phoning people, which is entirely different from skyping with someone or sending them a message with the internet. You don't have to say what you feel in a letter or post. You can vastly alter your appearance before you take a selfie [which isn't a bad thing. Go ahead, make yourself pretty.] and you can definitely do some magic social engineering with a telephone.

The point is, why do we still consider face-to-face conversation the apex form of communication? People are really, really bad at split-second decisions, so why would we want that kind of error in our best communications? Should we not prefer a method which allows less mistakes, fewer misconceptions and better detachment from the scenario? I mean, don't stop talking to people forever. But if you want to get a message across, and have it well understood, text is almost definitely the best way.

Yes, when you talk to someone you see their facial expressions and their fidgets, all things they can't hide. But is that really how they feel towards you? If I really hate the topic, you might interpret that as animosity, because in a conversation I may slip up and insult you, ad hominem, by accident. In text, only what you want to say goes across. Trying to spare someone's feelings is much easier in text where you can shout and rage at a screen before calmly writing to them. What matters is not how they feel in general, it's how they feel about you. I don't care how you really feel, unless you want to tell me. People should get to keep their feelings hidden. But over text, they can express precisely how they feel, how they want to feel, about the person they are talking to.

Think about a conversation you had with someone a week ago. Heck, a day ago. How much of that can you remember? Do you recall their intonation? Their body language? Their pitch and timbre? do you even remember their exact words, or more of a vague feeling about what was said and some memorable phrases. What if you wanted to pick up that conversation again, could you? Would you be able to re-assemble the intricacies of the discourse and take the exact same side? Probably not. Best case scenario is probably a half-arsed clone of whatever had already been said.

On the other hand, go read a post online, heck I'll offer one of mine! Now, in a few weeks, you can go back, read that post, re-analyse it for any strange phrases, convoluted meanings or unusual statements and make a solid, informed comment on it. Sure, if you skim it you might miss something, but that's not the fault of the medium. That post will always say the same thing, presuming I don't have to go edit it or something, in which case I'll make sure you know.

the same is true for those saved SMS threads and E-mail strings on your phone: If someone mentions something you only vaguely remember from weeks ago, just read up and voila! There lies the reference, precisely as it was, for your perusal. So why do we cling so viciously to the idea of talking?

Well, we like talking, I think. I know I do. I like talking and I like listening. And for casual conversations, contriving a complex communication is comparatively simple. But if you want to debate, and if you want to really get your true feelings across, isn't text better?

Your chattering correspondent composing compelling conversations

Kalium_Puceon

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Atheism and Science are not inclusive!

Hey there, readers!

So at my holiday university thingamajig, most of the people I meet are Christian some way or other. Far and away, it's the dominant religion, just like everywhere else in this country. So, when people ask me what my religion is, and I say atheism, there's a few questions that get asked more-or-less instantly. These include:
  1. So you believe in the Big Bang theory?
  2. So you believe in Evolution?
  3. So you believe in Science?
  4. Have you tried praying/talking to [the] God/s?
  5. Why aren't you religious
These are some weird questions, frankly, given that the first three have very little to do with your state of theism. My answers, usually are:
  1. No, I like m-theory, and I will now explain that and the concept of higher dimensions to you for the next hour. Get a chair.
  2. Believe is a weird term, but yes, I guess.
  3. Believe is a weird term, but yes, I guess.
  4. Oddly enough, yes. It still doesn't do much.
  5. I can't reconcile any religion with what I see.
So the point I found interesting here is the direct link in most people's heads between Atheism and Science. Now, that's not entirely incorrect. A lot of atheists turn to science as their way to sate their desire for understanding about how stuff got where it is. Religion exists mainly to explain the unexplained, or the unexplainable. 

Science does something similar, but when it gets to unexplainable it tries really hard and then goes \_(ツ)_/¯.

Either way, all atheism means is "Without [a] Higher Power/s." As long as you don't believe in deities, you're atheistic. That means that if you think that the universe has just been here and you come up with your own theory that the earth was a rock which got captured by the sun and came alive, you're atheistic.

You could be a lawyer or an artist who never even considers the question of "How the heck did this all happen" and still be atheistic. The only reason we don't see more non-scientific atheists is because a) almost everyone gets a religion assigned at birth, and those that break off to Atheism generally do so through science and b) scientific atheists are the loudest and most obnoxious of the atheists.

Even without that, the number of religious scientists is very large, far more are religious than not. If science was an instant path to Atheism, the past wouldn't be littered with theistic scientists like Newton and co.

Yes, I will admit that atheists can often be downright annoying, insensitive and plain stupid. They try to win arguments, not ideas, and the more militant ones forge more distrust than they create trust.

If there's one thing I've learnt from a thousand arguments, it's that you don't change people's minds unless they have very weak convictions OR have trained themselves to be idea-receptive. The former is when it's something like "I refuse to eat insects" and the latter is often found in the sciences. Someone who has learnt this skill is good at changing their viewpoint, for instance, if they held the belief that the speed of light in a vacuum is 360 million metres per second, they would defend it quite well, however they rationalise it. However, show them a good, solid experiment proving otherwise, and they will quickly change their mind and use the new value, and they'll never mention 360 million ever again. These kinds of people aren't just scientists, any number of ordinary people can do this, but more don't. Religion is often such a strongly held conviction that it can't be so easily toyed with.

Basically, what I'm saying is that atheism is it's own thing, independent of the person's ability to qualify it. You don't go around asking theists to prove why they believe what they believe, so don't expect every atheist to be able to pull the complete manifesto for their beliefs out of nowhere by virtue of being atheistic. 

Yes, I am a scientific atheist, but not all of us are. 


Your heathen correspondent
-Kalium_Puceon