In The Armchair

“Charlie Bit Me!”

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on June 24, 2010

I just stumbled upon this YouTube meme.  It’s funny, but I don’t know why it’s SO popular…

The original:

Again:

Remake:

Remade again:

In the news:

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Judiciary?

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on June 17, 2010

I was shocked to read this in the Indian Express: Hurt yourself to prove case against wife, HC tells lawyer.  Briefly, wife accuses husband of physical abuse, showing wounds.  Husband claims wife self-inflicted the wounds.  Judge tells husband to self-inflict similar wounds on himself in order to demonstrate it is possible, while police officers film it!

Of course, it could be a case of the IE reporter incorrectly or incompletely explaining what actually happened.  Or even modifying the incident to get a sensational story.  With our media, you can’t be sure.  But assuming the story is true, it is utterly incomprehensible.

I don’t know whether forensic science can establish whether the wounds were self-inflicted or not.  Even if forensic science can do it, I’m not sure those facilities exist in India.  In either case, I am not sure what it would prove.  Suppose the husband did successfully inflict wounds resembling the wife’s wounds on himself.  Even so, the wife might be innocent — it wouldn’t prove anything.  The other side of the coin: suppose the wife did inflict the wounds on herself.  Why would a judiciary demand that an innocent party injure himself?  Whether the wife did or did not inflict such wounds on herself, the husband inflicting wounds on himself seems to have no judicial value.

Men on the Moon

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on June 14, 2010

It appears there’s a sudden glut of attempts to colonize the moon, coming from nations all over. India did launch Chandrayaan, and Chandrayaan-II is on the way. But we need to scale up and colonize, perhaps using robots, or we risk being left far, far behind. Building autonomous robots is hard; we should start robot programmes soon if we wish to get them working on the moon anytime in the near future.

NASA is talking about building a permanent manned base on the moon.
Japan is planning to send robots to build an entire base on the moon.
Italy is planning to send robots to assemble a telescope on the moon.
China is going to send exploratory rovers and, eventually, carry out a manned landing.
Russia is planning to resurrect a moon orbiter with multiple hard and soft landers.

The initial phases of many of these programmes have a 2 to 5 year timeframe.  The GSLV Mk II setback was significant because we lost a year (by optimistic estimates).  Still, ISRO’s had a good track record, and moon landings use the well-tested PSLV. Hopefully other programs won’t suffer from the GSLV problems.

The Hairless Ape

Posted in Armchair Ruminations by Armchair Guy on June 9, 2010

Humans have very little body hair compared to most other primates.  There are several theories on this, summarized well and interestingly at http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/19/science/19HAIR.html, which makes for a very interesting read. The currently accepted theory is that it’s an adaptation that helped avoid diseases spread by lice and ticks which found hiding places in fur.

This immediately raises the question: why didn’t other animals lose their fur for the same reason? That looks like an easy question to answer. Lice and ticks are not the only factor.  For example, in cold climates man could survive by wearing the fur of animals he killed.  Animals couldn’t do any such thing, so having a fur pelt was much more important than getting rid of lice.  This sounds like a plausible explanation, but it is wrong. The article says that man lost his body hair about 1.2 million years ago (estimated assuming the tick theory holds), but only started wearing clothes about 50,000 years ago — so there was a period of several hundred thousand years when man was hairless and naked. Other animals (at least those living in the same regions as man) could have lost their fur during this time, but didn’t.  I don’t have a good explanation.

All this changes if we consider a different theory for the loss of body hair.  There are many we could consider, but one of the more fanciful theories is that of the Aquatic Ape, which contends that, sometime in our remote past when all humans were still living in Africa, all the ancestors of currently extant humans were trapped in a small region around a shallow sea.  According to the theory it’s possible there were other humans not trapped this way, but they all died out.  Eons later, another cataclysm scattered these humans, who had now developed adaptations like the loss of fur to be able to swim better, as well as a slight webbing between their fingers, and a host of other adaptations.  To me this sounds more like science fiction than fact, and it has little acceptance in the scientific community.  But it’s a fun theory.

On-Screen Reading with Comprehension

Posted in Computers by Armchair Guy on June 6, 2010

Reading on paper is something most of us grew up with.  It’s possible coming generations will have more memories of growing up reading on a computer screen.  Perhaps static text and non-interactive content will feel archaic to many of them.  But for the generation that grew up holding real paper in their hands, reading a real book or a printout is much easier than reading on a computer screen.

I come to that conclusion because most people I’ve spoken to express in some way that they’re more comfortable with paper than with the screen.  Some feel they cannot read technical articles with full comprehension, or perhaps with equal comprehension, on a computer screen. Some say that fiction just isn’t as much fun on a computer screen. (I don’t know anyone who owns an e-reader; so I may be using a poor comparison on fiction.)

What could the reasons be?

Several people comment on the feeling of holding a book, and how that just feels satisfying.  Others simply say it has to do with comprehension.  I have a few theories:

  1. How you got your start might have something to do with what you enjoy the most.  If you are accustomed to physical paper, that might affect your enjoyment.
  2. I think it’s possible that vertical text is harder to read with comprehension than horizontal text; most screens are vertical.
  3. For technical reading, the ability to flip back and forth for quick comparison, quickly search by flipping through several pages, rapidly access specific parts of a book (beginning, middle, end, about 10 pages back, etc.) all contribute to making it easier.  I would’ve thought these functions are not too hard to implement ergonomically on reading program, but there’s a whole lot of things you can do.  It might be hard to make them all available through a GUI.
  4. To some extent, memory is assisted by connecting content with position.  For example, I often remember whether a formula in a book is on the left or right side, whether it’s closer to the beginning or the end.  It’s said that this is a bad habit and does the memory no good (hey — my memory really isn’t that good!).  In any case, that feeling of knowing where you are “on a map” — the physical location on the book — is completely lost when reading on a screen.  It’s possible to know by looking at the scrollbar, but that doesn’t give me the same sense of knowing where I am.

Evangelism at Gunpoint

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on June 1, 2010

The ends-justify-the-means methods of pulp evangelists are well known, but they seem to have added a new inducement for conversion to Christianity: life itself.  Naga Christians were taught by evangelists that they are superior to those following other local religions simply because they are Christian.  Indeed many of the hard-line Christians in the North-East seem to have that opinion.  That kind of mentality breeds violence.  Credit: I first saw this at the Satyameva Jayate blog.