Our Most Costly War Is One We Won’t Even Acknowledge

Image-1I ran across the above graphic on Twitter, and I thought its point was quite powerful. It’s based on a New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof that was written after the slaying of two journalists in Virginia back in 2015 and was verified on Politifact.

What it says to me is that without knowing it, we’ve been engaged in a very real war right here on American soil — a more costly one than any of the others we’ve ever fought. We freak out over terrorism — which is indeed a real and frightening threat — but perhaps we ought to be devoting more resources to combating routine gun violence (which is a bigger problem precisely because it has become “routine”).

The question, of course, is what to do about it. Some simple regulations might help. Kristof writes:

Gun proponents often say things to me like: What about cars? They kill, too, but we don’t try to ban them!

Cars are actually the best example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. Over the decades, we have systematically taken steps to make cars safer: We adopted seatbelts and airbags, limited licenses for teenage drivers, cracked down on drunken driving and established roundabouts and better crosswalks, auto safety inspections and rules about texting while driving.

And then there are people who assert that we’d be safer if more people carried guns (an idea that conjures an image of the Wild West in my mind). To them, I want to ask: If that were true, then shouldn’t it be the case that in places where more people carry concealed handguns, the percentage of self-defense shootings ought to be higher than in other places? And shouldn’t it be possible to show that the percentage of overall shootings that are justified acts of self-defense increases when conceal-carry laws are enacted and more people begin to carry guns? For that matter, shouldn’t we hear about self-defense shootings much more often than we do?

Maybe the logic behind the above questions is flawed. But even if that’s the case, I’m sure they could be modified into a logically valid form. And it should be easy to do some research and find the answers. With a little research, it really is possible to figure out once and for all what kinds of action need to be taken in order to reduce gun violence. Right?

Oh, yeah. Congress has banned research on gun violence. And it’s the NRA that lobbied for the ban. Which is funny, because the NRA states with great confidence that more guns are better, and more guns make us safer. But there’s something funny going on here, because if that were true, the research would bear it out.

What is the NRA afraid of? They should be encouraging such investigations if they are so confident that guns make America a better place. Until they do so, they might as well just admit what they clearly know to be true: Common sense gun regulations and/or fewer guns would result in less gun violence, making America much safer.

In the meantime, we’re losing a war.

Please go here and sign the petition to end the ban on gun violence research.

Your Dream Lives On

I’m proud to share “Your Dream Lives On,” a new song that I recently completed. You can watch the music video on YouTube (below) or buy the mp3 here.

If you like it, please support my creative endeavors by purchasing the mp3 (It’s only one dollar!):

olenrambow.bandcamp.com

If you want the sheet music, click here to download it.

And here are the lyrics:

She was just a little girl,
Dreamin’ bigger than she knew she should.
She’d seen how cold the world could be
And had in mind to change it if she could.

She said, “I’m gonna sing the song that will save the world.
I’m gonna speak the words that will heal our souls.
I’m gonna light the fire that will burn away the darkness.
I’m gonna lead the march that will make us whole.”

Well, life made her a widow
With a baby boy to bring up on her own.
And she spent all of her energy
Providing for that boy till he left home.

And all too soon, the years had slipped away,
And she lay dying in her bed.
As the tears were streaming down her cheeks,
She looked me in the eye, and then she said:

“I searched so hard but never found
Those healing words. I never sang that song.
I never lit that fire, never led the march,
And now my dream is gone.”

And I told her, “Mama, your dream will never die.
I watched you live your life. You made me who I am.
I heard you sing your song and saw you lead the march.
You lit the fire inside of me, and so your dream lives on.”

“And now I’m gonna sing the song that will save the world.
I’m gonna speak the words that will heal our souls.
I’m gonna light the fire that will burn away the darkness.
I’m gonna lead the march that will make us whole.”

Well, that was forty years ago,
And now it’s time for me to go as well.
As the tears come streaming down my cheeks,
I take my daughter’s hand, and then I say:

“I searched so hard but never found
Those healing words. I never sang that song.
I never lit that fire, never led the march,
And now the dream is gone.”

And she says, “Daddy, your dream will never die.
I watched you live your life. You made me who I am.
I heard you sing your song and saw you lead the march.
You lit the fire inside of me, and so your dream lives on.”

“And now, I’m gonna sing the song that will save the world.
I’m gonna speak the words that will heal our souls.
I’m gonna light the fire that will burn away the darkness.
I’m gonna lead the march that will make us whole.”

“I’m gonna sing the song that will save the world.
I’m gonna speak the words that will heal our souls.
I’m gonna light the fire that will burn away the darkness.
I’m gonna lead the march that will make us whole.”

‘Cause she was just a little girl,
Dreaming bigger than she knew she should.

The Chronicles of El Guapo (Entry 8)

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Dearest Minions,

Once again, an almost inexcusable amount of time has lapsed since my last status report. I can only plead that life is busy when the universe revolves around you — and I know that you will understand.

The past few months have been eventful. Just two weeks ago, my most trusted minions abducted me and held me hostage at a fishing resort in Bemidji, Minnesota (of all places). I resisted fiercely, screaming at the top of my lungs throughout the multiple plane rides, but to no avail. The only rewards for my effort were glares from my fellow captives, those poor souls who were belted to the seats surrounding me on the flight.

In the course of the ordeal, my maternal minion caught a fish:

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My paternal minion stood on a rock:

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And I attempted to dig my way out of captivity using nothing but a few pots and a discarded ice tray:

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I was unable to escape on my own, but fortunately, my parental minions did at last come to their senses and take me back home, where I am once again deeply entangled in schemes of the utmost significance.

Time is short, and I must now set my pen down and return to my pressing duties. As always, I exhort you to remain steadfast in your devotion to the Cause.

In Virtue and Splendor,

El Guapo

The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

A couple of years ago, my brother asked me to write down an advanced-looking mathematical expression that was equal to the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. I sent him the following:

Answer to Life the Universe and Everything

I’m posting it now because my brother recently informed me that someone successfully simplified the expression mathematically, showing that it does indeed reduce to the requisite numerical value. Many people were, of course, able to guess what number it was supposed to equal. But now someone has shown it mathematically.

Now I shall get to work on constructing a mathematical version of the question that the above expression answers…

 

I Know Why We Sleep

Sleeping-Baby

image source: http://blogs.davenportlibrary.com/pr/2013/05/21/trivia-tuesday-sleeping-like-a-baby/

I’ve heard several scientists say that we still don’t really understand the purpose of sleep. In their TED talks, Russell Foster and Jeff Iliff propose some possible explanations. Foster’s ideas sound like mere common sense, while Iliff’s suggestion is more interesting: He claims that during sleep, waste products are purged from our brains. In other words, your brain poops while you’re sleeping.

That may be true. But I have my own theory. It’s kind of a joke, but deep down, I think there might be something to it. It’s something that any parent will recognize as an almost certain truth. And it’s simple: Sleep evolved so that little kids would periodically shut down, leaving parents free to do the things that they need to do in order to keep their family alive.

Consider what happens when you have a baby: You’ve got this tiny, helpless thing that screams incessantly, thereby attracting predators that Mommy and Daddy have to keep fending off. After a while, this thing starts crawling all over the place — into thorn bushes and ant hills, and over the edges of cliffs — so you have to spend all of your time running around protecting it from self-inflicted injuries. And on top of that, the thing keeps putting everything into its mouth. Constant vigilance is required to ensure that your baby doesn’t choke or poison itself.

Under these circumstances, a mother and father living on the high plains will never have time to do anything. They won’t be able to gather food, cook a meal, build a shelter, make clothing, start a fire, or even take a dump without their baby going off and getting itself killed. So all the people whose children don’t periodically shut down will be weeded out by natural selection. Of course, this must go back much earlier than humans. Our shrew-like ancestors also would have needed time to hunt, gather food, find shelter, and so on. And so they would have needed for their children to sleep, too.

If my theory is correct, one must ask why adults also need sleep. But it could simply be that an adult’s need for sleep is just a remnant of what was vital in childhood, or that sleeping as an adult provides other benefits, as described in the brain-poop theory. What’s telling is that kids need so much more sleep than adults, thereby giving their parents time to get shit done.

So, how’s that for a theory? I think there might be something to it. Maybe sleep is mostly about recharging, getting rid of waste, and conserving energy. But perhaps there was also some evolutionary pressure for children to sleep longer hours than their parents and to nap during the day, not for the sake of recharging or conserving energy, but for the sake of giving their parents time to do what was necessary to keep the child alive.

This is why I thought about changing my name …

frabz-olen-17vuotias-nuori-nainen-turusta-tp-3f38e7

This is what I’ll look like in the future.

The above picture should require no explanation, but I’ll give one anyway.

Apparently there’s a trend right now — and I’m probably the last one to have noticed it — wherein people Google their first name together with the word “meme” and then share with their friends whatever they find. I thought I’d give it a shot, so I typed “Olen meme” into the search field and hit enter. At first, I wasn’t surprised by the result.

Google said to me:

Did you mean:
dolan meme       alien meme       olev meme       elan meme

This is the same response I get from people when I introduce myself and tell them my name. They assume that I meant to say something else. Because no one’s named Olen. Except for me. And a bunch of people in Scandinavia. Evidently, there are more people named Olev than Olen, which is a surprise to me.

Well, I was about to close the browser window and move on with my life, when at the last second, I decided to click on “images” just to see what would pop up. Lo and behold, the picture at the top of this post was the very first image in the results. The second was a picture of Morpheus from The Matrix.

I had no idea what the text in the picture meant, so I plugged it into Google Translate, which identified it as Finnish and translated it to, “Old young woman from Turku.” And so I still have no idea what the text in the picture means. If anyone can give me a better translation and explain the whole thing to me — image and text — I’ll send you a lollipop engraved with my initials.

So that’s my result for the “first name + meme” search, for what it’s worth (which is nothing).

The Chronicles of El Guapo (Entry 7)

ElGuapo_Caped_Philosopher_Rotated

“I wear my bib like a cape.”

Dearest Minions,

I shall keep this message succinct, seeing as I have recently infected every last one of my fawning servants with a nasty case of the stomach flu and am now charged with the burdensome duty of nursing them back to health.

My nefarious and cynical enemies (of which I have many — make no mistake) scoff at my attempts to essay commentary on the state of world affairs. They foolishly suggest that eight months of life is far too short a period within which to develop any credible perspective on matters of appreciable magnitude. I shall endeavor herein to prove such pusillanimous skeptics wrong.

The observation that I wish to share today is at once profound and trivial, and it is simply this (if you will allow me to quote myself):

When everything is being said, nothing is being said.

I say this, of course, in reference to the vapid, contradictory absurdities being spewed forth by the various news outlets whose logos are featured in the following montage, which I have ripped shamelessly from a Google image search containing the words “news logo montage”:

news_logo_montage

The sentiment of this observation is admittedly similar to the thoughts penned in my paternal minion’s essay on white space (be sure to click on the white space, or you may miss his message). It is also humorously reminiscent of the words of the great mushroom expert John Cage (look him up), who famously said, “I have nothing to say, and I am saying it.” Perhaps by saying nothing, Cage was in fact saying everything.

I suppose that this nothing-everything duality that has emerged in the media (and has arguably existed for all time, even before I burst onto the scene eight months ago) is a mere glimpse, at one particular scale, of the fractal nature of existence itself, which physicists are just now beginning to suppose might in fact be nothing.

And so I leave you with a simple poem:

Everything from nothing,
And nothing again from everything.
Meaning is in the middle.

These thoughts are enough to make one wonder just how big the chasm is between Zen Buddhism and nihilism. Perhaps they are One.

In Virtue and Splendor,

El Guapo

[See the previous letter from El Guapo.]

The Chronicles of El Guapo (Entry 6)

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Dearest Minions:

I write to you this day to disclose tidings that will undoubtedly cause your hearts to resonate with my own in unparalleled joy. First, however, I must warn you that the contents of this disclosure may be more than marginally shocking to many of you, for they will reveal that I am susceptible to the very same longings for love and companionship as ordinary mortal humans. Continue reading only when you are sure that your mind and body are of sufficiently robust constitution to digest this revelation with minimal ill effects.

My disclosure is this: I have found love. Yes, it was as surprising to me as it surely must be to you, dear Minion, for I believed, as all of you did, that nowhere on this earth, from the deepest valley to the highest mountain peak, could ever be found a companion of sufficiently radiant excellence to be worthy of partnering with a figure as eminent and illustrious as I. But as we all know, life frequently has a way of proving us wrong, often in humbling ways, and that is indeed what has happened in this particular instance.

Without further ado, I present to you the following two photographs, that you may behold the angelic recipient of my affection. I am sure you will all agree that her youthful mien is charming beyond verbal description. With unreserved confidence and utter certainty, I can declare unequivocally that the world has never known a fairer maiden than she.

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From the outset, my encounter with her restored within me a belief in those romantic ideals of love and the indomitability of the human spirit. Accordingly, I made all appropriate advances with characteristic boldness, while maintaining absolute propriety and the fullest possible respect for her personal dignity. It was gratifying (though unsurprising, needless to say) to find that she welcomed and returned my affection in equal measure. When our hands touched, sparks flew; and, I am not embarrassed to admit, drool flowed.

In summary, I have met my equal, and she is a damsel beyond compare. Never fear, however, that I will allow this newfound love to distract me from our great cause, dear Minions. I have forgotten neither the prize for which we labor nor the many comrades who support me with their blood, sweat, and tears. We will prevail. Indeed, there is much worth fighting for.

In Virtue and Splendor,

El Guapo

[See the next letter from El Guapo.]

[See the previous letter from El Guapo.]

The Chronicles of El Guapo (Entry 5)

 El Guapo in Carrier

Dearest Minions:

Of late, I have been occupying myself with rather frivolous pursuits. Call it a vacation, if you will. In any event, I have been directing my Parental Minions to serve me around the clock with various forms of entertainment. It is exhausting for them, but I know that they feel justly rewarded by the smile on my face, and so I do not feel guilty about placing such onerous demands upon them.

The photograph above is an example of one of our many activities. Note the embarrassingly goofy smile on my Paternal Minion’s face. The image shows us engaged in a hobby that I like to call “Inverted Puppeteering.” Although I am the one hanging like a marionette, it is I who am pulling all of the strings. I have become so skilled that I can now direct my Paternal Minion’s every move effortlessly via subconscious thought.

And just today, I granted my Paternal Minion the privilege of performing drunken acrobatic maneuvers while emitting childish noises. At the end of his shenanigan, I reciprocated by toppling over in a goofy fashion. I normally would not engage in such unbecoming behavior, but every once in a while one has to throw one’s minions a bone. It was worth it; you should have seen how ridiculously cute he was when he laughed! A pity the camera was on me and not him, though that is certainly as it should be.

In any case, here is the video:

I wish all of you the best, and I exhort you to remain faithful to our great cause.

In Virtue and Splendor,

El Guapo

[See the next letter from El Guapo.]

[See the previous letter from El Guapo.]

Life, the Universe, and Everything

matrix

(Click here for the PDF version of this presentation.)

Math is everywhere, hidden in places where we don’t even expect to see it. For example, take a look at the following image:

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What do you see?

Most people say “music.” People who have studied the piano might recognize this as a piano score. And a true enthusiast might recognize it as the third movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

What you’ve probably never thought of before, though, is that a musical score is actually a form of graph. It tells the performer what combination of notes to play at a given moment in time. In other words, it shows sound as a function of time.

In the image below, I’ve added labeled axes to draw attention to this:moonlight_sonata_graph

Now consider a photograph. Below is one of the most spectacular images I found when Googling “photograph.” (Thanks to whoever posted it!) I love how it shows the strings of mucus frozen in time.

tiger_photo

Anyway, a photograph itself is also just a type of graph — and not just metaphorically. In fact, even the way images are produced in our brains is just a way of numerically graphing the intensity and frequency of light that falls on different portions of our retinas. In essence, your retina is the x-y plane and the light is the quantity being graphed.

Below is what the photograph looks like when graphed in three dimensions from different angles, with the colors changed to a different color scale:

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Now here is the same graph when viewed from directly above, so that the tiger is easier to make out:
tiger_photo_graphs_2

Here’s another example of a great photo:
frog_photo

And here it is with the same procedure applied to it. This one works a little better than the tiger because it isn’t filled with little white spots that end up looking like noisy spikes in the graph.frog_photo_graphs_1

Below is the graph when viewed from directly above, just as I did for the tiger. Pretty cool, huh?frog_photo_graphs_2

Now consider something that really seems to have nothing to do with math: a piece of literature. Below is the first paragraph from A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens.
Tale_of_2_cities

It, too, can be considered as a type of graph. It’s a graph that tells the reader what words to speak or think as a function of time:Tale_of_2_cities_graphThere are, of course, many other examples of graphs:

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What I’m saying is that anything can be thought of as a kind of graph. Really, though, it’s not just graphs that are so powerful, but numbers themselves. This is because numbers encode information. For example, an entire song can be encoded in a single number. So can a photograph, or even a movie.

What’s particularly fascinating is that physicists now believe that physical reality itself is composed of information. In fact, the universe might even be digital. And since numbers encode information, it is possible that the entire universe could be represented by a single number.

Take a minute to meditate on that.

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If that’s true, then there’s only one thing we can conclude…

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* * * * *

This post is based on a PowerPoint presentation I made for my math students in an attempt to inspire them. Here it is in PDF form:

Math Is Everything (PDF version)