Saturday, February 24, 2007

Avatar Shipping

You can't even escape shipping in the cartoon world. The creators of Avatar are fully aware of which relationships people on the interwebs are cheering for (and arguing about), and have given unto their followers a video (password is "KOH") to make all of the shippers squee with delight. (*whispers* Zutara and Taang forever!) It kind of makes you wonder exactly what kind of hormones members of the Watertribe give off. Sokka gets all the girls and Katara gets all the guys. I mean, they even attract the villains! ("I'll save you from the pirates", indeed).

By the way, Nickelodeon, releasing these shorts does not give you an excuse to delay the premiere of season 3. I demand Book of Fire! That is all.


Quote of the Day - February 24, 2007

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.

- Neil Armstrong

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The Psychology of Space Travel

NASA has revealed that they have procedures in place for when an astronaut goes out of control in space and must be subdued for the safety of everyone. This whole Nowak incident has people asking about the psychological effects of space travel, even though Nowak herself was only in space for two weeks. I did a paper on the psychological effects of space travel when I was in high school, and the research was indeed thin. Most of the papers I could find were translated from Russian. The U.S. has always paid great attention to the physical effects of space travel, but direct research into the psychological effects of being in space was limited. Most of the studies I looked at for my paper involved the psychological effects of “space-like” conditions. Biosphere II tried to demonstrate what a settlement on another planet would be like. That ended… not well. Antarctic research stations mimic the true isolation (people in Biosphere II could theoretically step outside if they really wanted out) and close quarters of a long-duration mission. There have been adverse psychological effects observed in these conditions, but nothing destructive (as far as I can find).

I’ve posited before that the Internet is pushing human behavioural evolution in a direction that will make people more able to cope with the isolation of space travel. However, the confinement and close quarters are a different matter. Even those who have lived at sea for extended periods of time have not done so for a period of time even approaching what a Mars mission would be. And we have no way of knowing what will happen as astronauts slowly watch Earth shrink and shrink and shrink until it is but a bright blue star out their window. If you think looking at Earth from orbit makes you feel small, what will it feel like to see that massive orb reduced to a spec among many?

I do think we should explore space ourselves and not just leave it to the robots. Exploration is essential to the human condition. But no one said this would be easy. Besides, if it were easy, what fun would it be?

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Lunar Eclipse

Good news for those with an eye for the sky but early bed times - a lunar eclipse coming up on March 3rd will be visible on the east coast of the U.S. shortly after sunset. I'm trying to think where I would go to see both the eastern and western horizons, since I'll want to be watching the sun set while waiting for the eclipsed moon to show. I can see the west from here, which means I'll see sunset just fine. But I'm not allowed on the roof (how awesome would that view be?!). That's a Saturday, but maybe I can go to work. I think I can see both horizons pretty well from there. Here's hoping for a clear day!


Friday, February 23, 2007

Group Think and Meetings

A recent study suggests that group think in meetings can result in poor decision making. Essentially, once people hear ideas from others, they have trouble coming up with ideas that differ from what has already been mentioned. So if you want people to come up with truly diverse ideas, you need to have them brainstorm individually, then come to a meeting with their ideas written down. Use the meeting to organize the ideas everyone has come up with on their own, discuss them, then take a break to allow everyone to process the ideas presented on their own. This gives everyone a chance to break out of group think again before a final decision is made.

Group think in meetings can also be used to great benefit when the purpose of a meeting is not to make a decision, but to get everybody on the same page. If working relatively independently has caused a group to lose focus on the goal they all are working toward, a meeting can serve to quickly refocus everyone's efforts on the task at hand.

Of course, group think in meetings can be taken advantage of in a negative way. If you want people to be incapable of thinking of any solution other than the one that you offer, even if they hate your solution to their deepest core, just force them to go to as many meetings as you can fit into a day, leaving them mentally exhausted and incapable of coming up with a better idea. Be careful to schedule meetings "before" and "after" lunch, but not during, so that you are not obligated to provide food even though it is obvious that no one will have time to eat between meetings. If people try to skip meetings to acquire sustenance, "forget" to tell them what (if anything) was decided in the meetings they skipped. This way, the rebels who are most likely to come up with ideas that differ from the desired group think will be left out of the loop and rendered incapable of contributing.

Meetings aren't the only place this is a problem. Any time someone wants to sell you something, they flood your brain with the wonders of their product, making it difficult for you to think of reasons why you shouldn't buy their product (other than not trusting salesmen). Politicians and pundits, too, do their best to fill your head with their ideas so that you have trouble coming up with your own. But meetings are particularly bad because they involve so many people trapped in a room together, unable to escape. Meetings have their uses and can be very productive when administered properly. But they can also be horribly unproductive if factors like group think aren't taken into account.

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Chimps Attempting to Evolve

Chimps have been observed routinely making wood spears to catch prey. According to the article, the chimps are living in an environment similar to where humans first evolved. But it's mainly the female chimps who make and use the spears, which means they still haven't learned the skill that is key to civilization - manipulating the males. An anthropologist quoted in the article makes the point that the female chimps create the spears out of necessity: caring for children makes chasing food more difficult, so they've invented an easier method of catching food. But if they could convince the males to use the spears to catch food for them, they'd be one step closer to convincing them to settle down in a nice field, maybe build a shelter to protect themselves from the elements. Oh no! No one introduce those chimps to these monkeys. They might figure it out!

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Quote of the Day - February 23, 2007

Soldier: Hey, I thought you were tied up!
Joaquin Murrieta: That is because you are stupid.

- The Mask of Zorro


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Quote of the Day - February 21, 2007

Perhaps, if I am very lucky, the feeble efforts of my lifetime will someday be noticed, and maybe, in some small way, they will be acknowledged as the greatest works of genius ever created by Man.

- Jack Handy


Catzheimer's and Doggie Dementia

Apparently, pets are now reaching old age as readily as their human companions, which means vets are starting to recognize symptoms of senility in older cats and dogs. Some of the symptoms mildly apply to my 18-year-old Siamese, though he mostly just forgets where his food is. His personality remains intact. I'm not really sure how "walking aimlessly" is unusual behaviour for a cat, though. Cats pace. They're just getting in touch with their inner lion. And I suppose I should be thankful that my cat was fascinated by my screensaver instead of just staring at a wall.