Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving. And a review of Inception (the movie).

I have a shitload of grading to do.  There were two stacks of homework and two stacks of exams on my plate to trudge through during my break.  Last weekend, I planned on grading one stack for each weekday through the break giving myself one extra day just in case.  It is now Friday and I'm only through two stacks.  Funny how things like that work out.

Besides reading Wool (which I review here), Erin and I had some much needed time together.  She is working in Perry, KS now as the director of the Highland Community College Perry Center campus.  That is a good distance away.  Enough so, that a commute home every night is not reasonable. 

What a blow-off looks like
So far, we've managed very well.  We keep quite busy during the week so that we can enjoy the weekends together.  There is no long term plan in place yet.  The short term plan is to continue doing what we're doing.  If two years go by and we're still doing what we're doing, we may start considering other options.  For now, we're doing fine. 

Erin brewed her a Mosaic IPA on Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  This was her first home brewed beer in a LONG time.  With some coaching and help from her seasoned brewing husband, she created an amazing batch of wort that has great potential.  In fact, in a 6.5 gallon fermenter, it started blowing off on Thanksgiving morning.  That means the yeast were so active they ride the carbon dioxide they create all the way through the airlock making a mess if you aren't set up for it.  

Erin enjoys cooking like I enjoy brewing.  So, she busied herself with cooking on Thanksgiving, while I graded, did laundry, enjoyed her cooking, and drank many different concoctions.  

For breakfast, she cooked us some open faced sandwiches.  She first spread pesto and Parmesan on bread and broiled it, before topping it with a tomato, and some fried mushrooms and eggs.  She then made some POMimosas, using Prosecco and POM (pomegranate juice) rather than orange juice.   
For lunch, we ate some kale pesto rotini pasta topped with Paremesan with a side salad.  The pesto was actually leftovers from the previous day. 
And then for our non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner we had some turkey breast tenderloins braised with rosemary, sage, and thyme, basted in white wine and roasted in the oven to perfection.  There were some steamed veggies on the side along with some roasted fingerling potatoes and garlic.  
To give you an idea of how much Erin has been cooking all week, here is a picture of the fermentation fridge.  We can use the fermentation fridge as a regular fridge during the winter months, since I need the heat pad to maintain my fermentation temperatures between 64-68 F.  The fridge is needed in summer months and for lagering year round.  I'm just not doing any lagering right now. This is a good thing since we need the space for all our bottles and food right now. 

Decided on the spur of the moment, we chose to re-watch Christopher Nolan's Inception on Thanksgiving evening.  This is one of my favorite films, and definitely my favorite by him.  I love the open ended ending.  The viewer has to make up their own mind on what is the dream and what is reality.  And after several viewings, I'm fairly certain that he made the movie so that one could have arguments for either and that there isn't a true answer.  Very much like Frank Stockton's The lady, or the tiger? 

The scene where I believe he lets it be open ended is when Yusuf (the chemical expert) takes them downstairs to see several people together dreaming as one.  Cobb (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) asks to get plugged in.  We see some quick dreams of his late wife, and then he wakes all frazzled, unplugs and runs into the bathroom to splash water on his face.  He pulls out his totem to make sure he's not dreaming. This is a top:  
Cobb knows that if the top stops spinning, then he is back in reality.  If it continues indefinitely, he knows he is dreaming.  If it were me, I would just have to do some long jumps.  If I jumped and somehow floated along the air for a ridiculously long distance, I would know I was dreaming.  If I plummeted back to the earth well under 8 feet, then I would know I was in reality.  

Anyhow, Cobb is interrupted in this scene before he can let the top settle.  He knocks it off the sink and picks it up off the floor.  For the rest of the movie, we can now make an argument that he is one level down in a dream world. But we can also make a fine case that he is in reality.  Which did you choose?  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Wool Over My Eyes

The Wool Over My Eyes
I just finished reading Hugh Howey's Wool.  This is the first book of three in the Silo Saga.  It was a fantastic read that I recommend.

The world of the silo that Howey creates pulls you in immediately.  The setting is a distant future, in which the outside air is extremely toxic and deadly forcing people to live in an underground silo.  The story is set far enough in the future that all the people in the silo are several generations in.

As you meet characters and get used to the Order (the rules you must follow in the silo), you begin to realize that these people only know the silo and the barren wasteland of toxic air outside as the only thing existing in the world. It is challenging to try and get in that mindset.

Howey's writing is very clever.  At the end of Chapter 1, for example, he ends with a character's exclamation, "Tell her I want to go outside."  I remember thinking at the time how that didn't seem to be much of a cliffhanger.  In the following chapters, we find out how these people have to follow strict rules, never ask questions, and never express ideas or any interest whatsoever in exploring outside.  These can all lead to one's exile and certain death.

By pages 33 and 34, you begin to see the theme and understand the meaning behind the title, which has to do with pulling the wool over one's eyes.  On these pages, one of the characters is doing something referred to as 'cleaning'.

"The cleaning!
Holston reached down and pulled a wool pad from his chest. The cleaning! He knew, in a dizzying rush, a torrent of awareness, why, why. Why!"
"His wife had been right: the view from inside was a lie."

What is really fun about the book, is at this point, you have no clear idea of whose eyes the wool has been pulled over.  Is it those inside the silo?  Holston's eyes?  The reader's eyes?  A combination or subset of these?  This was my hook.  I couldn't stop.  

Unlike other apocalyptic type stories in which you no longer have things that you know once existed, it explores a world in which you live with several limitations, and are unaware of the multitude of possibilities, and in fact hindered from stumbling upon such possibilities.

Even though I, as the reader, sided with those seeking truth and exposing falsehoods, I noticed the conflict in choosing this side.  For things to run smoothly, does everyone need to know the entire truth?

Here we have a character's thoughts late in the novel: "So much about her previous life made sense." "It turned out that some crooked things looked even worse when straightened. Some tangled knots only made sense once unraveled."

What "she" is suggesting here, is that she somewhat understood why certain rules and why certain veils were in place, even though "she" was completely and totally on the side of squashing such rules and unveiling the secrets.

 Isn't it best if the wool is pulled over several eyes in some cases?  But then, who decides those cases?  This is what the book will probe you into thinking about, which is what I love. Trust me when I say, the book was very engrossing.  It kept me up a little at night and definitely affected a dream or two.


I'll finish with a few lines I really loved as an academic, but are nowhere near central to the story.  These words are thoughts of Walker, who is tinkering with a walkee talkee that only has one channel.

"Walker was the one who had taught Scottie that it's always okay to admit when you don't know something. If you couldn't do this, you would never truly know anything."

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Ultimate Hypothesis Test Evolution is Fighting Against

What is a hypothesis test? You don't need statistical knowledge to understand the idea of hypothesis testing. In hypothesis testing, there are two hypotheses. To illustrate, we will look at a courtroom. There is a plaintiff and a defendant. The defendant is assumed innocent until proven guilty. The plaintiff is known as the claimant or complaintant, who makes a claim against this innocence.

The two hypotheses in hypothesis testing are the null and alternative hypothesis. How do you tell which is which? The null is the one that is assumed true throughout the entire test. In this example, it is that the defendant is innocent. The alternative hypothesis is the one for which the claimant would like to pursue evidence. Here, it is that the defendant is guilty.  

Each individual juror has their own alpha level. What is an alpha level? As long as you are completely unbiased, and believe the defendant to be innocent before the trial begins, your alpha level would be the point at which enough evidence has stacked up for you to reject this belief.  

Here is the counter-intuitive part. When evidence for the alternative keeps stacking up, the probability that your original assumption (the null hypothesis) still holds becomes smaller and smaller. Once that probability falls below your alpha level, you reject the assumption in favor of the alternative. This probability is what statisticians refer to as a p-value. So, a very small p-value is synonymous with a large amount of evidence against the original assumption. This is the most difficult concept for an undergraduate statistics student to comprehend.  

This is how science works. We observe things happening in nature. Then we try and explain them and make a hypothesis against some status quo. Then we make more observations. The evidence then continues to build or it doesn't.  

This is what has happened with evolution. The evidence has stacked up in such a tremendous fashion, that one would have to have an extremely low alpha level to not accept it. And that is just it. We have a culture that has set the Ultimate Hypothesis Test into the minds of most Americans at a young age. This Ultimate Hypothesis test is as follows. 

Null Hypothesis: God created man
Alternative Hypothesis: Man has come about naturally through evolution
Alpha level: 


That is, 1 x 10^(-99). I just typed it out for emphasis.  

So, even though these Americans have been confronted by VAST amounts of evidence (so much in fact, that even the theory of gravity doesn't have near as much), it still isn't enough to make the probability that God created man smaller than the alpha I gave you. Maybe it is just 1 x 10^(-69). Not enough. Null hypothesis maintained.  

This is what we are competing against. It is a combination of stubbornness to the 99th degree and an incomprehensible amount of ignorance.  

This is the world we live in. 

Well, at least there are mind altering drugs to which we can turn.