Sunday, June 30, 2013

Good athlete, bad athlete

A former Stanford football player stopped a runaway bus in San Francisco. Frank Primus happened to be on his way to his position as a surgical resident when he jumped into action. Meanwhile, a former Florida (and now former New England Patriots) football player, Aaron Hernandez was charged for murder. Some players have a good plan for life after football, while others still haven't learned to live a life during football.

We have seen plenty of football players acting like thugs. However, we also see cases of thugs finally growing up. (See Cam Newton returning to Auburn to take classes towards his degree.) The current lawsuit seeking compensation for former players should be a wakeup call for the NCAA and college football in general. They have often treated the players as true semi-professionals. This is a disservice both to the universities and the players. College should be a time of learning and self-discovery. When teams forget the person behind the player, we get antics like that of Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. He's a great player, but all his juvenile activities are out in the public eye. Where is the university to educate him? Most students get a chance to be an idiot in front of just their facebook friends. He gets to do it in front of the entire world.

Some football players go on to become doctors or Rhode Scholars. They may have come in with these goals and used the experience to their advantage. Others come in with only a desire to become an all-pro in the NFL. These guys are the ones that could most benefit from the life lessons in college. Whether they make it pro or not, a good education could help them in their future. If colleges fail to do this, they are really nothing more than minor leagues.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted

This is a collection of brief essays in the life of a modern, overweight woman. Well, food only really makes a prominent appearance in the first one. It is pretty much a book about nothing. I suppose some middle age women might find a lot of it interesting. For the rest of us? Uh, not so much.

We get a lot of stories of overweight women reminiscing over their past relationships. They acknowledge that they treated men like dirt and it the end, the one they really wanted was the one that they dumped.

You do get some good Chicago and midwestern settings. At times you actually feel a little sympathetic towards the people. They have finally realized that they have suffered because of their bad decisions. They fell victim to the American culture that encourages you to get benefits without hard work, and now they are paying for it.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Good Earth

The Good Earth starts with Wang Lung's wedding day. He ventures out to the wealth house of Hwang to retrieve his wife, a humble slave girl, O-Lan. She is a hard worker, and he treats with the appropriate diffidence that was expected in the culture. Wang Lung is a farmer and loves to work the land. In part due to some financial difficulties in the wealthy landowners, he is able to buy a little bit of land for himself. Through the years he is able to acquire more, and eventually (due in part to some jewels pilfered by his wife), he is able to become a wealthy landowner. In the end, his family moves into the house previously occupied by the house of Hwang. However, he longs to return to the land, and lives his dying days in the old farmhouse. He has gone full circle, even to the extent that his sons are now contemplating selling the land. Wang Lung does not want that and makes them promise not to do it.

The novel provides a glimpse into peasant life of pre-communist China. The cultural norms are foreign to us (and probably even to modern Chinese), but are believable representations of an illiterate, hard-working peasant life. Wang Lung is able to end his life knowing that his family is now in control of a great deal of land. However, the communist revolution would come within a generation and collectivise all of the land. Even if internal conflict would not destroy the family, the external factors would eradicate the material achievements. Did they really make themselves much better by obtaining all the wealth?

During the course of the novel, we also see conflicted emotions in the characters. Wang Lung always always respects his wife as a great worker, but his love and compassion ebbs and flows. Many of the difficulties in their relationship are brought about by financial gain. (While the physical trials are often the high point of their relationship.) His relationship with his uncle was also conflicted. He was a greedy hanger-on. But, he was also the leader of a robber gang and provided protection. We see Wang Lung and his many defects, but we also see great compassion (taking care of his sick wife, and making sure his handicapped child is cared for.) Similarly, most of the other characters are well rounded, with even the most vile characters often having positive attributes.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition

Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition is a doozy of a course. Seven sections of 12 lectures each. This can take a while to get through.

The first two sections cover classical writings. This is mostly the Romans and Greeks that we've all we've all heard about, along with a few we haven't heard about so much. We also get the Bible, Gilgamesh and some other well known "ancient works." This stuff is really old, so there is not a whole lot of new things to go around. Perhaps we will have some new discoveries that will add to the canon. For now the big question is how to interpret what we have.

The third section covers the middle ages. This is where things get interesting. The professor begins by saying that we really don't understand the middle ages. Most of what we think of as the middle ages has been colored by the renaissance and later times. I also found that I'd been missing much of the literature from this time. This is the time when the English language starts to appear, and the Anglo-centric curriculum seems to focus there. (Ancient Greeks -> Romans -> Beowolf -> Canterbury Tales -> Shakespeare) Even "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" gets left out because it is the wrong English. The coverage of the Italian and French authors of the Middle Ages provides a lot of fodder for further study.

The Renaissance covers some really popular guys (Shakespeare). Some well known, but not so popular guys (Marlowe), and some that I've never heard of (Lope de Vega). Marlowe's Faustus is still on my "I should read" list.

With neo-classical the quality starts to go down. The general delivery is not as attention grabbing. (They seem to be reading rather than speaking, and the added emotional flares seem fake.) With the neo-classical lectures, there is a lot of overanalysis, trying to put modern day sentiments into the thought of centuries old writers. The lectures also tend to be very focussed, giving us a detailed recap of a single work, rather than giving more information on the author and the times.

Each professor also covers most of the "key" authors of the period, but then throws in a few "unknown" authors.

The style of the last lecturer annoyed me at first, but then I grew to like it. He was a bit too "pseudo-emotional" and started each lecture with an excerpt from a work he was discussing. He did do a good job of weaving in the work and the other body and life of each author. I found myself liking the lectures on the authors that I liked (like Kafka and Dostoevsky) and not caring so much for the ones I didn't know as well or didn't like.

After making it through everything, there were a few key works that I want to explore more. However, it seemed for the most part, I've already read the most appealing ones. (I'm wondering if it was worth the time to go through so many lectures.)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Commenting out JavaScript regular expressions in Node.js

Weird oddity commenting out code

This line works fine:

hc = hc.replace(/path=[^;]*/,"path=/"+hostMap[pref]);

However, if I try to comment out a block using /* */, things get wonky:

hc = hc.replace(/path=[^;]*/,"path=/"+hostMap[pref]);

The JavaScript interpreter throws a nice syntax error.
It turns out that the JavaScript interpreter sees the /* and says "cool, its a comment. I'll go until I see it close." Then it sees the */ of the regular expression and says "ok, I'm done."
It is left with some seemingly bogus line:

Now, if you could make this appear to be legitimate, you could get some seriously obfuscated code going.

The workaround is to comment out the line with the // mechanism:

//hc = hc.replace(/path=[^;]*/,"path=/"+hostMap[pref]);

Now if I could just figure out how to get chrome to start showing spell-check suggestions again...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Origins of the Human Mind Part 2

This is the second part of the lectures. The focus here seems to be on diseases and the nature vs. nurture debate. There seem to be more questions than answers. And even the answers can be ambiguous. In nature vs. nurture, the answer seems to be "both". Genes can set somebody up in a path. The environment can help trigger the action based on the genetic structure. However, there are many genes for each condition, and most things require a bit of each.
As for diseases, there is a lot of subjectivity as to what is a disease and what is not. There is also the issue of "continuous" or "discrete". For many things, an arbitrary point on a continuum is considered "disease". Is this accurate? What makes something a disease versus a simple deviance from the norm. Big changes in cases of mental disease seem to be more closely related to the redefining of what is disease rather than actual changes in society. Some mental diseases are also more present in certain types of society. (ADHD for instance is common when students are stuck in sedentary learning environments. It is not so much an issue when they are out on a hunt.)
There are also questions as to how mental illness was propagated in society. One possible explanation is that a heterozygous gene provides benefits, while homozygous could have the disease. However, many mental problems occur due to complex interactions of multiple genes and the environment. It could be that some mental issues were actually benefits, or that some aspects of the mental problem were beneficial and only become problems when combined with others.

The lectures provide some interesting material and a lot to think about. While it does touch on origins, this would be more accurately title "Mental Illness: What is it and where did it come from"

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Ruins starts out as a fantay book, then turns science fiction. It goes along nicely, builds up a nice storyline, and then ends randomly. It didn't wrap things up or have a cliffhanger. It just ended. Was he thinking to write another book in the series? Or is this how it ended? Card seems to be losing interest in his writing. He starts up a whole bunch of new series, but is not much in the whole "finishing" the existing ones that he left on a cliffhanger.

In Ruins we get a bizarre twist on time travel. People can travel back in time and see themselves. They can create multiple different paths for themsevles. Some of themselves can die without impacting the other selves. This "splitting" and "time travel" is how their world got created. 10,000 years prior a spaceship from earth landed on the planet. However, before landing, it traveled back 10,000 years and split in to 19. Thus, when the second ship comes a decade+ later, it has been more than 10,000 years, and in one time flow, they are shocked to see a huge civilization built up. (The time has been longer than the civilized time on earth.)

The different split up groups are kept separated via a wall. They also have "expendable" robots that help keep order in regenerate. In one "wall-fold", the people have a symbiotic organism that allows them live in the sea. In another, the people got to keep the smarts from earth. They have been monitoring "future" books that describe the destruction of the world, and have changed the world to avoid the cataclysm. In one case, they have bread themselves to appear to be yahoos that shun reproduction. However, they have also bred mice to have the intelligence of humans.

The main characters have abilities to view all paths traveled by living things, travel back in time, forward in time, and "fast through time".

There are all plenty of great ideas and interesting stories, but the ending just does not cut it.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Journeys of the Great Explorers: Columbus To Cook

Journeys of the Great Explorers tells of the great explorers. We don't get much (other than passing mention) of the conquistadores. However, the stories of the explorers did pique my interest. The discovery and exploration of the west coast of America doesn't seem to have been given much discussion in other works. I would like to study more of those voyages.

Those voyages must have been like going on planetary exploration today. Sure, ship travel was common back then. But, ship travel out into the endless open water? That was not common, and would take longer than a rocketship to the moon. The sailors were also at risk for scurvy (which they did not know how to cure then.) What if we just let privateers voyage off to the moon like captains voyaged off to the new world?

Navigation was also a problem back then, with places like the Solomon Islands being "hidden" for an additional 200 years because of bad "directions".

There could also be many voyages of discovery we just don't know about; either due to failure to return, purposely hidden records, or records destroyed through the time.

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie

An 8th grade boy loves to play the drums. His 5 year-old brother is sooo cute, but can be such a pain. One day things change. The younger brother comes down with cancer. This brings all sorts of struggles to the family. With the struggles, the older brother learns that he really loves his younger brother. There are also a couple of girls, the girl that he has a crush on, and the "friend" that he ignores. Of course, he ends up with the friend as a "girlfriend". (But the "crush" girl does eventually become a human "friend" instead of being dumped in the mud.) A big climax event is a benefit concert, organized by the two girls. It helps raise money for the family, and allow the jazz band to stay together. (Really, people would drop band just because of a public service requirement? And they would allow a benefit concert to fulfill the requirement? Ok, it's a little far out, but you have to have a climax, right?) He plays the first half of the concert, but his brother gets sick for the second half. They have to run to the ER, but luckily, everything turns out ok.

Yeah, it is pretty much all cliches. (You can just see it as a "heartwarming" movie.) So, it just comes down to the storytelling. Luckily, the writing is well executed. I also enjoyed the details on drummy. (Hey! He got it right!)

A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly is a book about drugged out junkies. Because it was written by Philip K. Dick, he threw in a few science fiction elements (such as a "scramble suit", however, it wouldn't take much work to take those out and make it a "straight" piece on the drug users. He, alas, seems to know the community well from experience. These are people that made a choice and are now paying the consequences. The plot centers around an undercover narcotics agent who also happens to be a drug addict and dealer. One of his main female contacts is, unbeknownst to him, also undercover. She is using him to infiltrate a drug rehab center, which we find is the supplier for the highly-addictive "substance D". In between, we have many drug-induced hallucinations and details of the behavior of these junkies. It is typical Dick trippy darkness, but without the imagination and story-telling of his other works.