“Here, Take My Seat and This Guy’s Too”

Posted in Tirades at 10:02 pm by admin

It has been three years since my last tirade. I must have mellowed. I would like to share a new word with the world and get it into common usage. The word is miscourtesy. Most English speakers will know the word courtesy and the opposite of that word, discourtesy. I will get into the specifics of these two words soon, but first…

A momentary diversion into set theory is called for at this time. If you have the set X and then everything else, or Not X, and you combine these two sets, you end up with the set of everything. If X is courtesy and Not X is discourtesy then everything must either be one of these, or the other. For example, allowing another person to pass through a door before you is a courtesy. If discourtesy is the opposite, that is the NOT of courtesy, then passing through the door ahead of someone else would be a discourtesy. So, no one can pass through a door when another is present without at least one person being discourteous. This is an absurd proposition, so there must be other categories of activities, things that are neither courteous nor discourteous. Out of this vast category, I would like to carve the new category of MIScourteous.

There are two major types of miscourtesy. The first type I will define is the type where one is courteous to another where the courtesy is no real benefit except perhaps a feeling that it affords the offerer of the courtesy. For example, If a person is walking immediately behind another and the first opens a door, holding it open for a second to allow the other through, this is a courtesy. However, if the second person is quite a ways back and the first must stand holding the door for, say 10 seconds, this is a miscourtesy. This delay does not benefit the second person in any significant way and it is an unreasonable burden for the first person to take on, so why do people do this?

The only explanation is that the first person percieves some value in standing like an idiot while the second approaches the door. This assumed burden of the first places a burden to hurry on the second. After all, to allow another, clearly courteous, person to stand like an idiot would be discourteous. This hurrying is a courtesy offered now by the SECOND person, but in the emotional exchange, the lead person now has one up on the follower. The leader has, in a sense, placed a burden on the follower in the name of courtesy. This is not courteous.

In my own experience as the second person in the above exchange, the first courteous individual will soon ask a favor of the second. In a transactional analysis of the exchange, the second person still holds the burden of returning a courtesy that was never a courtesy to begin with.

This begs the question, exactly how far back does the second person have to be for the courtesy to become a MIScourtesy? I have a rule of thumb: If the door would still be slightly ajar when the second person arrives to open it, you are clearly in the courtesy category. Beyond that, and you risk being miscourteous.

The second type of miscourtesy is a bit more difficult to explain. I will give a prime example to illustrate. Suppose you are driving down a busy street. You have been waiting in a line for two or three cycles of a traffic light. Either the light is cycling very quickly or traffic is moving slowly, but it has taken a while to get to this point. The light turns green and you are only a few cars back. It looks like you are going to make it through the intersection this time when the car in front of you stops short. You stop short as well. Then the kindly driver of the car in front of you motions to a line of three cars that have just pulled up to enter the busy street from a parking lot. After a second or two of hesitation, the cars begin to enter the busy street ahead of the car that is in front of you. During this exchange, the light turns red and you wait again.

What do you do at this point? The kindly driver in front of you was clearly trying to be courteous to the people in the parking lot. Why, if not for him, they might be trapped there for hours waiting for a chance to continue. However, you were only inconvenienced for a few more seconds. Well, except for the traffic light that has turned that into a minute or two. And what of the people in line behind you? I have watched as the courtesy has created major traffic delays as, during each cycle of the light, some new person lets two or three more people on the road ahead of the crowd that has been waiting patiently (or maybe angrily) for their turn. I have watched as cars drove into a parking lot, passed a block of cars waiting at a light and then exited the parking lot much farther ahead in line.

The problem goes beyond simply inconveniencing one group for a courtesy to another. I watched a near collision take place where a kindly driver (third from the end of a short line) tried to allow a person out of a parking lot ahead of them. In this case, however, the victim of the courteous driver’s good will had to cross another lane of traffic. I watched as a truck, hurrying to make the right turn at the light, nearly collided with, not only the parking lot car, but the two cars waiting at the end of the line. If the kindly driver had simply moved as expected, the truck would have made its turn without incident, the two cars behind would have made it through the light and the parking lot car would have joined our line on the, now all but empty road. This person’s courtesy nearly caused hundreds of dollars of damage and endangered the lives of the occupants of four cars.

This is a real problem. In our society, there is certainly room for courtesy. But before extending a courtesy, one should be certain that the courtesy is not a miscourtesy to others. Any attempt at courtesy that enters the realm of miscourtesy should be met with derision and scorn.


Supreme Lunacy

Posted in Tirades at 10:02 pm by admin

Our Supreme Court (and by “Our” I mean the one operated by the United States of America) has discovered the argumentative technique called “reductio absurdom”, reduced to the absurd. It seems that last year, they decided that a judge could not impose a “Hate Crime” bonus penalty and the reprecussions have been, shall we say, absurd.

In a double knee-jerk reaction, the various lawmakers in the US drafted laws which were heard by the Supreme Court and struck down as unconstitutional. This occurred because of two highly publicized cases involving protected minorities, one a gay man, the other a black man. In each of these two cases, it appeared that the perpetrators sought out a member of the minority at random and viciously killed them. Calls for the heads of the criminals lead to knee-jerk #1, Hate Crime legislation, laws that tack a bonus penalty on to the base punishment for crimes motivated by irrational hate.

The second knee-jerk came when the Supreme Court reviewed a case that appeared to have been motivated by irrational hate. The court decided that the criminal in question (and let there be no confusion about this, this person was convicted by a jury of his peers making him a convicted criminal by definition) was somehow denied his right to a trial by jury because the judge, acting within the context of the new Hate Crime laws, extended his sentence. The important thing to note is that the judge only had the authority to impose the bonus punishment after the conviction by a jury.

A quick review of how trial-by-jury works:

  • A grand jury is called to determine if a crime has been committed.
  • The grand jury hands down an indictment naming a crime and defendant.
  • A petit jury is impanelled and trial is held.
  • The petit jury finds the defendant guilty.
  • The judge imposes sentence based on guidelines established by lawmakers.

Notice that there are two “outs” here for the accused. The grand jury may not find that there is sufficient evidence to support a trial. The petit jury may not find that there is sufficient evidence to support a conviction.

The problem with the Hate Crime legislation is that the trial is supposed to be the finding of fact. However, if the judge must then base his sentence on a finding of fact outside of the jury’s finding of fact, then there was a second trial. In some states, a jury hands down a sentencing recommendation or there is a hearing after the trial, again with the jury present, where sentencing is determined. So, the Supreme Court has determined that only a jury may find fact (in a trial) and that the judge is constitutionally prevented from finding fact.

Now comes the Supreme Lunacy. A convicted murderer has appealed, not his conviction, but his sentence to death to the Supreme Court who overturned, not the conviction, but the sentence. Here is their reasoning: The judge in the case found that there were special circumstances that warrented the death penalty as required by the laws in that state. However, judges are not allowed to find fact, that power is reserved to juries. So, in spite of the fact that everything was done by the law as written by lawmakers in the state in question, the judge over-stepped his constitutional authority. In one decision, the Supreme Court has (once again) killed the death penalty and 150 death-row inmates are no longer in danger of dying in prison, until a jury has determined the special circumstances.

But wait! There’s more! Because of the Expost Facto rule, it may not be possible to impose the death penalty on those already convicted of crimes that fall under any judge’s “special circumstances” ruling authority.

My solution to this delimma is simple. Rework the laws so that there is a presumption of hate crime and a presumption of special circumstances and then give the judge the authority to find that these DO NOT exist in a particular case. Therefore, any crime must have an extra two years penalty and the judge must determine that the criminal did not act with irrational hate in commiting the crime. In this way, the judge is given the opportunity to reduce a sentence, not increase it. Simple. Stupid. A semantic change and nothing else. But it is constitutional because the judge’s finding of fact is in the favor of the defendant.


What Are Little Gods Made Of?

Posted in Tirades at 10:01 pm by admin

I have been coming to grips with a word recently and thought I might share the experience. The word is “atheist”. It is interesting for a few reasons that I will now try to explain.

Starting with the term “god” and taking it’s (I think) Greek root, we get the term “theist,” a person who believes in the existance of, at least, one god. Adding the negating prefix, “a-“, we get “atheist,” a person who believes in the non-existance of, at least, one god. I would say that everyone on this planet is an atheist in one form or another because they either believe in No god, or think at least one other group has it wrong and don’t believe in that one. Hindus are probably the only exception because they think that the one god has many aspects. In any case, it is a stupid word.

Let’s take another word, “agnostic” and chew it up and spit it out. First, we have the negating prefix, “a-” followed by “gnos” from the greek, “gnosis,” to know, and stick on “tic” because that is what we do to make the verb into a nouner of that verb. We get “to believe not knowing” which we take to mean “person who believes that we cannot know.” But, this begs a question, “Know what?”

The popular understanding of “agnostic” applies to the belief in a supreme diety. Now, let’s get this straight here, the agnostic believes that it is impossible to know whether or not there is a god. Got it. Now, if there is a god, and that being is in fact all powerful, could it not be said that such a being could make us believe? Hmm, so if there is a god, then agnostics are wrong about what they believe. So, any person who is agnostic must actually believe that there is no god until proven otherwise. If there is no god, then you cannot prove its none existance because, maybe you have the definition of “god” wrong. So, if you prove the non-existance of god, then could not the term “god” simply be redefined in terms that you cannot disprove? Isn’t that what has happened over the years?

With all of that said, let’s get back to the term “atheist.” This is the one that gives me trouble. Looking at the dictionary, I find that the term “God” means “the ultimate expression of reality” and that “atheist” means “one who does not believe in the existance of god.” Now, I believe in reality. So do most of the people I know. So how can I possibly believe it doesn’t exist? The point here is that the term “atheist” is not informative to anything that I do believe. Even if it does seem to be informative of what I don’t believe, it is not because, by at least one definition of “God,” I do believe. But, then again, I “must” be an atheist because there are so many definitions of god that I don’t believe in.

For instance, I don’t believe in Odin. I don’t believe in Cthulu. I don’t believe in Allah. I don’t believe in Jehovah (or Yahway or whatever you want to call the Judeo-Christian god.) I don’t believe in Vishnu. So I am just full of atheism, and yet, I believe in reality so I am not an atheist.

So, I propose that we dump the terms “theist”, “agnostic” and “atheist” because each of them presuppose a definition for “god” that, if it is true and accurate, would be foolish if not impossible to dis-believe. I propose that instead we use the terms “groveler” and “non-groveler.” These are simpler terms and much more accurate. I am a “non-groveler.” That is, I choose to believe that if there is an all-powerful supreme creator of all things, it don’t give a boar’s hind teat what I do with my time on Sunday. And if there isn’t an all-powerful supreme creator of all things, well, all the grovelling in the world isn’t going to change that.

So, all you grovelers out there, let me know when god is coming to visit and I might come by to have an interesting conversation with it. Until then, grovel away, but do it in private or at least in-doors and keep me out of it. I really don’t care what the grovellers that came before you grovelled, especially the grovellings that they put in books so that they could be re-grovelled over the centuries by their grovelling progeny.


CD/Ear Tweaking

Posted in Tirades at 10:00 pm by admin

This tirade is partially in response to this article and others like it. I hesitated to give this idiot the link, but some of my more vitriolic statements make more sense after you have read his comments.

Much to-do has been made in high-end audio magazines about the effectiveness of various tweaks that the audiophile can perform. The theories behind these tweaks and their originations are more often than not lost in the mists of time. Some probably originated with the vinyl record. Some may have been April fools jokes that turned ugly. In any case, I am writing this in the hope that somehow, somewhere one person will read it and get over themselves enough to think about what possible effect these tweaks might have and stop trying to perpetuate myths.

First I will address some real live honest-to-gods tweaks that may have some effect. These all have to do with vinyl records. Records work because the wave form of the sound to be reproduced is carved into a little groove. As the record spins, this groove causes a tiny crystal to expand and contract. This causes a high-voltage (but very low current) signal on a pair of wires. This wave form should have a shape that is similar (hopefully very close to identical) to the original sound recorded.

Stereo records add the second channel by carving each side of the groove at right angles to one another. This allows each side of the groove to carry one channel. The crystal then has two independent signals across each of two pairs of faces. OK, this was oversimplified, but there is important information in there.

Records suffer from many problems that can cause the signal on the crystal to differ from the signal that was recorded. Scratches in the surface of the record and foreign materials in the groove can cause pops or clicks in the sound. Static on the vinyl can cause crackles as it discharges through the needle. The friction between the needle and the vinyl adds hiss and channel cross-talk. Vibrations caused by the spinning of the platter add a variety of distortions and extra sounds. Variations in the force of the needle on the vinyl can cause distortions and volume changes. Even the lateral force of the needle as it moves from the outer edge to the inner edge of the record can make a huge difference in the sound of a track.

Over the years, audiophiles have developed various techniques to combat these effects. Pads added to the platter reduce mechanical hum. Changes to and adjustments on the tone arm (the swinging part that holds the cartridge that holds the needle) improve channel bias and sound changes caused by location. Solvents and brushes were developed to clean inside the groove. Anti-static guns help to reduce the crackles caused by excessive electron build-up. Some have even added oils and other liquids to the surface of the record to reduce friction.

Some of these changes are “approved” by the recording industry. Others are discouraged as they can damage the record itself. Since vinyl records are all but dead, I won’t go into specifics. Check with your industry rep before trying any of the above or be prepared to buy a new copy of your record or even a new turn-table.

CDs, in contrast to vinyl albums, suffer from none of the problems above. CDs are a digital medium. What this implies is that the signal coming off of the CD is a wave that represents a series of numbers. These numbers represent the wave forms of the left and right channels of sound. These numbers include, in addition to sound information, error correction information (also numbers) that allow the player to detect when a read error occurs and how to handle that error based on severity. In some cases, an error in the read is corrected. In others it is not correctable and the CD player will compensate. The price of the player will (to a certain degree) determine how it compensates.

The important thing to note is that the waveform coming off of the CD does not represent the sound that will be reproduced. Subtle changes in the amplitude or characteristics of this wave will have no effect on the sound that comes out of your speakers. These changes might reduce (or increase!) the number of errors that the player must handle, but it cannot sound richer, have better spatial separation or improve the sound response in bass, mid-range or treble. As Chief Engineer Scott would say, “You canna change the laws of physics.”

So, stop sanding the edges of your CDs. Stop painting their edges or their inner surfaces. Stop glueing dampening mats to them. Stop drawing on the upper, or lower surface. Stop degaussing and anti-staticing them. These changes (tweaks) will have no effect. Don’t believe me? Set up a double-blind sound test and really test your assertion that these things will have an effect.

Still don’t believe me? Then let me suggest that for the ultimate listening experience, if you are tweaking the sound producer, you must admit that the listener can be tweaked as well. Let me suggest the following:

  1. Paint the inner surface of your ears with a green marker to produce a more evenly colored sound. (Reduces pink noise.)
  2. Wrap yourself in foam rubber so that you are acoustically neutral.
  3. Stand on a multi-layer pad of particle board and acoustic tile (at least 5 layers of each) to get acoustic separation from the floor.
  4. Remove the wax and hair from inside your ears with a 20% solution of acetic acid to reduce sound constriction and reflections.
  5. Break-in your ears each day by banging two pot lids together 20 times immediately next to each ear.
  6. Soak yourself in mineral oil to reduce crackling.
  7. Carefully drill 5 equally spaced holes with a 1/8″ bit just through your skull on your forehead to improve spatial perception.
  8. Finally, your body produces many sounds (heartbeats, bowel sounds, etc.) which your brain must filter out. These can diminish the listening experience. It would be best if you could stop these sounds entirely or acoustically separate your head from them. Consume a large quantity of arsenic or decapitate yourself just before listening to any of your CDs for the ultimate in sound reproduction.

Thank you for your attention.


Solar Heating, a diatribe

Posted in Tirades at 9:59 pm by admin

Oh, and for anyone thinking of installing a solar heating system, please call me so that I can practice my maniacal laugh. To put it bluntly, they suck. They all suck.

You are much better off paying for a good gas furnace and gas water heater than trying to “save the environment” with a solar heating system. According to the contractors we have replacing most of ours right now, the whole system probably cost around $40,000 to install in the early ’70s and has probably saved close to $3,000 on gas bills up to the point when it died dramatically necessitating an almost complete replacement. This is NOT a cost saving measure.

To help to understand this, let me try to explain the total “cost” of a solar system. First off, it is made from metals and glass. These things do not simply grow into the shape of a solar system and get picked by farmers; it takes energy to dig them up, refine them, shape them, assemble them, transport them and install them. If all of that energy had been spent heating your home, the heat would probably outlast the solar system. But that is not all.

Solar systems also require energy to run. What, you think the heat magically gets from the roof to a tank in the basement? NO. Something must be pumped up to collect the heat and then moved through some sort of storage facility to hold it for when it will be needed. All of the systems must be monitored to determine when it is appropriate to try to collect heat, which takes energy. And to top it all off, a solar system works best in the summer when you don’t need as much heat as you do cold, which you cannot get from a solar heater.

Solar heating, not just a bad idea, a stupid one.