Friday, June 7, 2013

The Future of Travel?

While dealing with the embarrassment of creating a blog and then not posting anything, I came to the realization that what matters is to START WRITING, and STOP WORRYING. Why wait for the ultimate interesting topic before posting? Here goes.

Has anyone heard of Evactuated Tube Transportation? My wife stumbled on the following video and it blew my mind.

Basically the idea is to build a tube network where people can ride in capsules that transport them at thousands of kilometers per hour. Due to the fact that the acceleration/deceleration is very gradual, the capsule passengers never experience greater than a single 'G' of force. This speed and lack of uncomfortable force on the body mean that humans could one day commute between New York and LA in approximately 45 minutes. Or between New York and Beijing in 2 hours.

There are a lot of obvious concerns about the infrastructure needed to support this system.

  • Can any public or private entity really maintain such a long stretch of evacuated tubing without it imploding?
  • What about earthquakes and other natural disasters?
  • What about acts of terror?
  • Would any of the above two causes of tube breaches spell pulverization for passengers?
These questions and others are being tackled by a conglomeration of companies that are throwing R&D money behind this dream. Take a look at:

What do you think? Is this a futuristic pipe dream or a possible reality in our lifetime?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Blog Title

In the last few days I've gotten a couple questions about the title of the blog so I figured that I could explain it while I try to think of something more substantial to post.

The title is a reference to a monologue from the 1999 movie "American Beauty". Ricky Fitts, the character giving the monologue, is the neighbor kid who comes off as a strange 'stalker'-ish type due to his carrying a video camera around everywhere he goes. Here he offers a glimpse into his reasons for filming and reveals himself as the only character who can see the beauty behind all the world's ugliness, something the main character, Lester, eventually finds in the end. Take a look:
The key line for me here is
"That's the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid. Ever."
I suppose my love for this monologue kind of gives me away as a theist. My blog posts will undoubtedly reflect a theistic worldview but I hope this does not turn anyone off and would instead be viewed as an opportunity to examine and contend with such a worldview if you have not had a chance to do so before. Understandably, people often avoid religious discussion because it is impossible to remain objective and because we do not wish to offend those whose beliefs differ from ours. If this is you, I challenge you to abandon this mindset. There are few topics on earth more important than these and they really define who we are and how we live. I feel that a lot of our political discourse (another topic many wish to avoid) is dead from the start because we can never understand one's political motivations without knowing how they feel about the deeper issues such as where we come from and where we derive our worth.

If you are agnostic, atheist, or even strongly anti-theist, please stick around! You cannot offend me with arguments, refutations, counter-points etc and in fact, I want to hear them! As I mentioned in my first post, I am constantly re-evaluating my own views and philosophies based on input from others and personal research. If nothing else, you might find my views to be different than those of theists you are used to conversing with. There is so much to be obtained by choosing to engage in these discussions rather than avoiding them. The risk of offending someone is a small deterrent next to the possibility of gaining understanding of the other person and their viewpoint. So, in closing, whether there is a life behind things or not, I hope you'll agree that the search to find out is worth the effort.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Hello World

If you've ever tried your hand at computer programming before, you know that it is a skill that needs to be learned through doing. Reading about programming, hearing about programming, watching someone else program... these are good supplements, but unless you directly apply the material to an application that you have written, you will find yourself lost pretty quickly. This is why the near-universal first step when introducing a particular computer language is the "Hello World" program. Not only is this a relatively simple thing to do (making it good for beginners) but it also demonstrates to the programmer some fundamental syntax and a 'feel' for the language. In short, it is an exercise that has you write a program in the target language that, when run, simply outputs the words "Hello World!" to the monitor.

Profound, isn't it? An optimistic declaration to the world that you exist and want to engage! Coming from a programming background, I thought a Hello World post would be a good way to start a blog.

DISCLAIMER: This will not be a blog about programming. (Understand, there are excellent blogs on programming out there, but writing a blog about programming would bore me to tears!)

I'm an idea guy. And by that I don't mean it is my mission to arrogantly churn out ideas that I want everyone to follow. What I mean is that I love ideas. I love hearing them, discussing them, wrestling with them, testing them... My hope is that, over time, by exposing myself to more and more ideas and refining my own, I can edge and crawl and squeak my way towards truth.

Now, 'truth' is a pretty nebulous word. There are little truths and big truths, subjective truths and (hopefully) objective truths, truths that are inconsequential and truths that are earth-shaking. For my religious friends, you'll recall that when Jesus was on trial, he tells Pontius Pilate (a roman prefect) that his mission was to bring truth, and Pilate replies with a thoughtful question: "What is truth?"

How am I defining the truth I am searching for? I suppose a first, feeble attempt would be that I want to have as good an idea as possible about the way things are in the realm of things that matter. And now look, I've dug myself a hole where I need to define what 'matters'. :)

I'd wager that if a poll could be taken of the whole world asking what questions they want answered, they would consist roughly of the following:

  • Where do I come from?
  • Why am I here?
  • Do life and existence have meaning?
  • Are the above questions absurd?
These are the things that I think 'matter'.

And here! With this blog! I will answer these questions for you!

More likely, if I stick with this blog, I will probably pose more questions than anything else and this is because they are questions that I'm wrestling with myself (not to mention, I think most people have a healthy skepticism when someone tells them they have the answers). The blog will more be a place for me to dump what I am feeling about certain issues and ideas whether they be current events or age-old topics.

I've realized for awhile now that micro-blogging platforms like Facebook and Twitter are definitely not the right forums for discussion of complex and controversial ideas. The short format more readily lends itself to shocking one-liners and pithy-comebacks than reasoned debate. A blog, while not perfect, seems to offer more in this regard if for no other reason than the length afforded to each post and the anti-reactionary nature of the act of posting ideas at such length. Quick posting of a sentence or two on social media usually doesn't give enough time for tempers to cool or thoughtful reflection to prevail. I have, of course, read some 'choice' blog comments, but I've also seen a greater average of thoughtful comments on blogs than on Facebook posts and tweets which seem only to attract comments either from people of identical mind (leading to a circle-jerk of sorts) or from those seeking attention and a feeling of self-righteousness by being directly oppositional. I have nothing against agreement or disagreement of any of my ideas and I do hope that you comment, but I also hope that with this blog, you and I can utilize the extra space to more fully articulate our questions and views.

If you get nothing else from this blog and you disagree with every single one of my conclusions, I at least hope that it causes you to look your own ideas and views in the face and to ensure that they really do hold the weight you are putting on them. I can't think of a single nobler exercise that conscious creatures can perform. So Hello World! My name is John.