Monday, August 25, 2008

Evolution vs. Thermodynamics

My uni friend Jimmy posted this link online yesterday, and I thought it'd be good to share it with you all. This article, from a math professor in the States, Granville Sewell, states that evolution cannot be possible due to some strange violation of the second law of thermodynamics; specifically that the increase in orderliness contradicts statistical likeliness. While he makes no reference to the validity of intelligent design, there is no doubt that he would find God creating the world in 7 days more probable than evolution.

I did not do so well last semester in thermodynamics, and even then, the course was a introductory course. Nevertheless, though I find some of his theories highly suspect, I have trouble putting on finger on what that is. He makes references to "simple examples" in his book, which we have no access to, and then proceeds to extrapolate these theories to the general case, saying that open systems are just as unlikely as closed systems to tend towards order, even with the greater multitude of tangible and intangible factors.

Arguing that our current situation, and all the steps leading to our current situation, is statistically improbable requires the knowledge that the other situations were probable, but how can we know that if we are currently at the steps we are. It is not as simple as rolling a die 8 times and realizing that our eight 1's in a row was impossible, because that would require knowing the other possibilities. Perhaps all the other universal situations were just as improbable, but equally improbable. Think of it as a six-zillion-sided die, where our current situation is just as crazily ridiculous as any other.

The problem with these counter-arguments is that they have the same flaws as the arguments, in that we somehow have to know the "whole picture of the universe", which is impossible. That leads me to my current dilemma, which is that I know that arguing evolution is impossible from a thermodynamic perspective is in itself impossible... but why?

Really, I'm starting to lose sleep over this stupid question. Gah!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Whatever Happened to Hypersonic Air Travel?

Well, I'm finally back in Canada after three months overseas. It took me no time at all to adjust to the new time zone, mostly because I employed the long-lost art of "not sleeping for 30 hours straight". The problem is that, with not sleeping for 30 hours straight, I had to endure 30 hours of mindless tedium, be it in airport terminals or in the airplane itself. Your mind starts to slip and you begin to notice the tiniest of details...

Modern air travel is the ultimate form of sensory deprivation. There you are, sitting in your cramped airplane seat, headphones on, staring at the screen in front of you watching some images dance around while your jaw hangs slack, breathing in artificially compressed air, all while blissfully unaware that you are in fact in a zillion ton plane flying a zillion miles above the ground at a zillion miles an hour.

Then, when turbulence kicks in and your plastic window makes creaking and cracking noises, you are suddenly reminded that the only thing stopping you from drowning in the ocean or your head from exploding is a tiny little oxygen mask and a shitty little flotation device made in India at below cut-rate. Assuming of course, that you actually survive the zillion-degree-below-zero temperatures and the zillion-mile fall.

By the time you stop being amused by your own mortality, you begin to wish that something interesting could happen because you hate having to go through the dilemma of either putting on the headphones to watch Fool's Gold or Eragon, or taking them off and listening to the baby two rows in front of you cry and scream loudly. This continues for several hours, and you begin wonder why the child sounds like it is trying to self-extricate its tonsils. Is it because of the noise of the airplane? Perhaps the turbulence? Maybe the mother is so enraptured by Matthew McConaughey's naked torso that she has forgotten that her child exists?

Nope, it's probably the food from earlier. It's common knowledge by now that airplane food is bad, but my flight was really something special. Somehow, they managed to give me an omelette breakfast where the sausage was pale white and had some disturbing blue-green veins in it, and the eggs had the same consistency as Jello and tasted like a mix of sweaty rags and drywall. You want to wash it down with drinks, but unfortunately the airline company does not realize that a thimble of water isn't even enough to quench the thirst of an amoeba, let alone a normal human being.

A few hours into the flight, you feel like you should find an exit. You're not claustrophobic, but you're starting to feel it. Looking around doesn't help, and getting up and going to the washroom doesn't help with the claustrophobia either. The plane doesn't have a plug for your laptop, so you're stuck listening to the onboard radio, which has a) shitty Eurotrash dance music, b) shitty French-Canadian folk music, or c) Madonna, telling you to "give it to her", whatever it may be.

Already, you feel your sanity slipping when you happily remind yourself that it's been a while since the plane took off. You then glance at your watch and realize with a plunging dread that it's been three hours and you're only a quarter of the way to the next transfer location.

Just before landing, you are jolted out of your catatonic state by a video describing how to navigate the upcoming airport terminal. This usually isn't a good thing. When there is a video teaching the passengers how to follow signs, a skill we all first learned sometime back in elementary school between nap time and recess, it probably means the airport terminal is hopelessly complicated and that the only realistic way that we can find our way out is with a torch and a spool of yarn.

Of course, by the time you land and get off the plane, you realize that the video was full of complete lies because it is unsurprisingly outdated, and by following the new, even more unintelligible signs, you actually wind up on the next flight to Qatar.

Thankfully, you get on the right plane before the gates close, and lo and behold, it actually has an outlet plug, so you can get some proper work done (i.e. watch more movies and play games). This, however, takes so much of your energy that you wind up falling asleep with half an hour to go. When you wake up, however, it's been an hour and a half and the plane still hasn't landed. You entertain yourself with the fact that maybe the entire crew was waiting for you to wake up so they could land because you're so, so special.

However, the real reason becomes clear over the PA as the pilot announces that the plane, which can tolerate the cold of the zillion-mile altitudes and the friction from the zillion-mile-an-hour speeds, can't land just yet because the runway is "mildly moist." Thus, he must make the plane circle around and around while burning up fuel and making the entire planet a bit more toasty for our polar bear and penguin friends.

Then you arrive, pick up your belongings, go home, unpack, and realize that someone went into your luggage and stole your toothpaste, out of all things.

Goddamn it.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Yeah, sorry I didn't update like I said I would on Thursday. I'm also sorry to disappoint most of you, as I did make it back safe from Cambodia. In fact, I sustained less bodily harm in Cambodia than I did in Singapore, but I'm getting ahead of myself here.

I saw a lot of cool ruins in the 'bodes, and the children who walked the street (once they stopped pleading with you to buy their goods) were a lot of fun to talk to. It really felt good to make these kids laugh and smile, even if it was me pulling faces and yelling a lot. Besides, considering I'm a 5-year old at heart, I pretty much fit in.

Although it's tough for these kids to get by day-to-day, I really do believe that some will have the intelligence and tenacity to rise up beyond their condition. I mean, if five of them can walk behind me from one end of a temple to the other while reciting facts from the C.I.A. World Factbook about Canada, the US, and Madagascar (for some reason), they can have a better life. Unfortunately, the system provides no leaders for them. While the country has improved dramatically since the destruction inflicted by the Khmer Rouge regime over 30 years ago, they still have a long way to go.

Even still, I enjoyed myself in Cambodia, and on the morning of the Thursday, I boarded my plane and came back to Singapore. For some delusional reason, the first place I headed to after I touched down was the lab, where I embarked on some stupid quest to finish the prototype solar powered golf buggy which I had been working on all summer rather than be reasonable and unpack.

Never mind the fact that I had spent the previous two days trekking through the jungle, or started the morning at 4am and spent most of the morning either on planes or in airport terminals. Nope, I had to finish my work, come hell or high water. So I started doing the last bit of work, which was the hardest and required the most concentration: soldering wires.

In case if you've never soldered before, what I had to do was fuse wires together using a lead-tin filler, which can be melted at an extremely high temperature. The tip of the soldering iron can be as hot as 300C (or for you Fahrenheit people, roughly a billion F). The problem with my particular soldering iron is that there is a heating element that occupies 60% of the length of the tool, which is even hotter than the tip.

It's perfectly natural to grab the heating element like you would a pencil instead of holding it at the end, where it is awkward and causes messy joints.

Actually, it's not perfectly natural. You either have to be really bold, really drunk, or really really really fucking stupid to grab it around the hot part.

And that's exactly what I did: index, middle, and thumb wrapped around the middle portion because I was too tired to notice what I was doing. Coupled with my diminished reflexes due to my fatigue, I wound up with self-diagnosed second-degree burns on my thumb and my index finger, and a third-degree burn along the forefinger portion of my middle finger.

Now for some needlessly gratuitous descriptions of my wounds: The second-degree burns have manifested themselves into leaky blisters. I've also lost my sense of touch on the fingertip of my index finger. As for my third-degree burn, it's charred the skin purple and the dermis underneath refuses to heal, oozing a certain purple fluid when its particularly angry.

And how have I been curing myself? Surely I've seen a doctor by now right? Haha no. That's silly. And expensive. A doctor's appointment costs something like $50 here, and do you think that saving a finger on my left hand from amputation is worth $50? Hell no, which is why I'm doing it the manly way: by pouring iodine into my open wound and covering it with some flimsy band-aids.

Really, if I were more manly, I could rid myself of this predicament by simply downing a few pints while flexing my biceps, but then that would just cause my room to likely explode due to its inability to contain my sheer manliness. That's how manly I am.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to put more iodine into my wound because I am so fucking butch. RAWR!

Monday, August 4, 2008

The 'Bodes

I'm going to keep this one short. I'm off to Cambodia tomorrow and I'm getting up at 3 in the morning to catch my flight to Angkor Wat. Assuming I'll still have both my legs and at least one kidney once I leave the country, I'll be back on Thursday. One of my fellow exchange students, who went to Angkor Wat before he arrived in S'Pore, said that Angkor Wat was one of the places to visit before you die. Or maybe it was one of the places to visit to die. I'll have to check with him on that. Anyway, I'm piss tired right now and I need to go pop some pre-flight malaria pills. I don't really need them. I just think they're delicious.