Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Generation Which?

This post at Aeon may go a little too far, but there's some truth in it: A lot of times, the characteristics that are ascribed to a generation don't really apply well to the people in that generation -- or they apply at some times in life but not others. In which case they are probably more descriptive of a time in life than they are of some kind of generational cohort.

I recall that in the mid to late 1990s, "Gen-X'ers" were seen as disaffected slackers. There was something to that, but since a generation is usually taken to span about 20 years, it didn't apply across the board. I was a Gen-X'er, but from the earliest end of that time frame and didn't have all that much in common with the alienated goofball of Reality Bites. But on the other hand, the alienated goofball represented real people as well. Some of their alienation remained as they aged, but not all, and truth to tell, disaffection is not uncommon to late teens and early 20-somethings.

Major events can affect large groups of people -- World War II made the generation that fought it something it never would have been otherwise. Other events can affect a wide range of people, but not as deeply. People my age take note of things like the murder of John Lennon, the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, and we will probably always remember them and what we felt when we learned of them. But I can't see how even the three of those added together could have the same kind of impact brought on by the most massive conflict in humam history.

Plus, a lot of the research into generational characteristics focuses on Western or developed nations, and often only on the U.S. What a Rwandan teen saw in the 1990s probably worked on them a little differently than, say, the death of Kurt Cobain did on American kids.

I often work with college students, young adults and youth, and I try to keep abreast of the kinds of things written about them. Some of them ring true, but some of them don't. The Aeon writer has some points about how a significant amount of the stuff I read oversells the ideas of generational characteristics and differences, but there's some baby in that bathwater and I can't buy the suggestion it's time to toss them out completely. But I would make sure there's some salt handy.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Gratitude, In Memoriam

A Dutch village remembers the sacrifices made by U.S. soldiers on their behalf by tending the graves at a World War II military cemetery. In some cases, the third generation of a family is now visiting the graves, placing flowers, and remembering what was given.

That's a pretty good thank you.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunspot, Baby

This struck me as interesting, especially since I'm currently reading -- at a very slow and mystified pace -- a book about helioseismology, or the study of the movement within the sun. The picture is the magnetic field over a group of sunspots, color-enhanced to be visible in regular light.

Even though it's on the sun, it's still pretty cool.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Did We Take the Red Pill?

A couple of other things along these lines have shown up here before, but this one poses an interesting question: What if the core "stuff" of the universe isn't stuff after all, but information?

Robert Lawrence Kuhn, creator of the public television show Closer to Truth, ran across the idea when interviewing some scientists. Scientists have almost always believed that the universe and everything in it is made up of things, so to speak. Although as time and technology have progressed we have found smaller and smaller things, the idea is still that these things are little pieces of bigger things. Even the word "atom," which we use to describe the building blocks of matter, comes from ancient Greek, showing how long this concept of the universe has been engrained in our thinking.

But what if the core stuff of the universe was not stuff at all? What if it was information instead?

The idea requires a specific understanding of information that diverges a little from our common use of the word. It doesn't mean knowledge, data or trivia. The latter may make up the entire programming schedule of Comedy Central but not the universe.

As Kuhn notes, the concept of information being used here is much more like the one a computer uses in its binary code. A circuit is either on or off, and if you string together those ons and offs in a series, you create programming directions that tell the computer what to do. Whether or not the circuit is on or off is the kind of "information" that Kuhn's interviewees were speaking of.

As he notes in the piece, this could be seen as something like the spin of an electron. Electrons spin one way or another -- they don't actually spin around like a planet, but physicists have decided to label one of their characteristics "spin" in order to mess with non-physicists' heads. Whether or not the electron is spinning up or down determines a lot about it, and that "information" is basic to what the electron is doing. By extension that's basic to what the atom is doing, which in turn influences what the element is, which in turn influences what compound it is or isn't a part of, and so on.

Several physicists are not convinced, and the theory itself is in the early stages of development. At this point scientists aren't even sure what kind of experiments would be needed to test the idea, let alone what results would come about from them.

On the other hand, if a Laurence Fishburne pops up and offers to show you how deep the rabbit hole goes, that might be an indicator.

Friday, May 22, 2015

It Just Came to Mind

I went to college too long ago for this report about the perks that university presidents get for it to include either of the men who served in that job during my undergraduate tenure.

But since I just made my monthly offering on the altar of Sallie Mae (now called "Navient" for some reason that I am sure I got an e-mail about, written by someone whose position is partially funded by said monthly offerings and yet whom I cannot fire, demote or direct to do something more useful than change names and send annoying e-mails), I felt like posting it.

I'll also remember it the next time our state's flagship university presidents come before our legislature, wearing their best Dickensian orphan faces but traveling in late-model luxury sedans paid for and driven by someone else, to ask for a funding increase even though state revenue is projected to fall about $600 million below last year's figures.

'Cause those mooches do fall under the survey time frame...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Captain Christopher Pike of the Starship Enterprise

Star Trek fans know that Captain Pike was the character played by Jeffrey Hunter in the first pilot of the famous show, "The Cage." When that pilot didn't sell, Hunter decided not to stick with the project, and a second pilot was made, featuring William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk. The rest, of course, is history.

The Pike character came back in a two-part episode called "The Menagerie," but he had been horribly scarred in an accident and behind the heavy make-up was Sean Kenney (who also played characters in two other Star Trek episodes). In the reboot movies from J. J. Abrams, Pike is played by Bruce Greenwood and has the great line, "Your father was captain of a starship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives, including your mother's. And yours. I dare you to do better."

Some fans of the original series have gotten together an online fund-raising campaign to create a fan film called Star Trek: Captain Pike, with that serving as a bridge to the 90-minute movie Star Trek: Encounter at Rigel. A lot of these movies float around out there of varying degrees of quality in both acting, effects and production. The Pike group seems to have secured a pretty high-level cast for a production of this type and many of the listed members have previous connections to Star Trek shows and movies (including Kenney, who's been working as a professional photographer since 1980).

Here's hoping this goes off well. I've become curmudgeonly enough to hold a lot more appreciation for the original series than the later ones and I've enjoyed several of the stories fans have created using those characters. The Star Trek Continues folks, for one, have done four episodes so far and a couple of them have been better than anything the original show aired in its awful third season, even if their Dr. McCoy is atrocious and former Mythbuster Grant Imahara cannot convince me (or anyone else older than four) that he is Lieutenant Sulu. It would be nice to see a little bit of the Enterprise before she became famous.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Heavenly Kiev

Or at least, that's what it looks like, as Ukrainian art director Alexey Kondakov used photo software to insert figures of angels and the gods of ancient mythology into some everyday spaces in Kiev, the city where he lives and works. Here's one:

Betcha didn't know that the virgin Mary rode the subway, did you?

It's kind of interesting, because if the story of the Nativity were to take place today, in all probability Mary would be the kind of person who would ride a subway to work. Maybe cleaning houses in an upscale neighborhood. She might have had to go back to work when Jesus was still an infant, and maybe carried him on the ride home.

The angels, on the other hand, have it easy. When you have wings, you don't even have to jump the turnstile to ride for free. You just float it.