Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Hell, the properties thereof (oldie but goodie) 

The following is apparently an actual question given on a University of Washington chemistry mid term:

Bonus Question: "Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?
Support your answer with a proof."

Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law, (gas cools off when it expands and heats up when it is compressed) or some variant. One student however, wrote the following:

First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So, we need to know the rate that souls are moving into Hell and the rate they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving.

As for how many souls are entering Hell, let's look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell.
And with birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially.

Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.
This gives two possibilities:

1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

2. Of course, if Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over. So which is it?

If we accept the postulate given to me by my date, Ms. Theresa Banyan during my Freshman year, that "...it will be a cold night in Hell before I sleep with you", and take into account the fact that I still have not succeeded in having sexual relations with her, then No. 2 cannot be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and will not freeze.

The student got the only "A".

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Seasons Greetings :-) 

Merry Christmas

From me ("the Wishor") to you (hereinafter called "the Wishee").

Please accept without obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, politically correct, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious or secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all, and a financially successful, personally fulfilling, work/life balanced and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2004, but with due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures or sects, and having regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform or dietary preference of the Wishee.

By accepting this greeting you are bound by these terms that:

- This greeting is subject to further clarification or withdrawal.

- This greeting is freely transferable provided that no alteration shall be made to the original greeting and that the proprietary rights of the Wishor are acknowledged.

- This greeting implies no promise by the Wishor to actually implement any of the wishes.

- This greeting may not be enforceable in certain jurisdictions and/or the restrictions herein may not be binding upon certain Wishees in certain jurisdictions and is revocable at the sole discretion of the Wishor.

- This greeting is warranted to perform as reasonably may be expected within the usual application of good tidings, for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first.

- The Wishor warrants this greeting only for the limited replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the Wishor.

- Any references in this greeting to "the Lord", "Father Christmas", "Our Saviour", or any other festive figures, whether actual or fictitious, dead or alive, shall not imply any endorsement by or from them in respect of this greeting, and all proprietary rights in any referenced third party names and images are hereby acknowledged.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Lessons learned and remembered. Or maybe not... 

Well, well. What have we here? The Time Magazine "Person of the Year" in 1938 was none other than that leading light of one of the more virulent incarnations of socialistism; adolf hitler.
And guess what lesson the generations of that time had learned and still remembered? And those who hadn't, were soon to be reminded of in no uncertain terms...?

Most other world figures of 1938 faded in importance as the year drew to a close. Prime Minister Chamberlain's "peace with honor" seemed more than ever to have achieved neither. An increasing number of Britons ridiculed his appease-the-dictators policy, believed that nothing save abject surrender could satisfy the dictators' ambitions. [emphasis added]

Strange sentence construction but, seeing the tinge of cynicism that pervades the entire article, not to mention actually giving hitler the award, the second half of the sentence does indeed correctly state to what lengths England would have had to go if the direction chamberlain was taking at the time were to be followed through to its conclusion.
A generation ago western civilization had apparently outgrown the major evils of barbarism except for war between nations. The Russian Communist Revolution promoted the evil of class war. Hitler topped it by another, race war. Fascism and Communism both resurrected religious war. These multiple forms of barbarism gave shape in 1938 to an issue over which men may again, perhaps soon, shed blood: the issue of civilized liberty v. barbaric authoritarianism. [emphasis and two links added]

Hmmm... It seems that the Time Magazine writers of old could actually tell their arse from their elbow and recognised a totalitarian system, whatever name it called itself, when they saw one. And they didn't shy away from calling a spade, a spade.
My, my. Times have changed (no pun intended).

So why is it that lessons that are apparently learned by one generation seem not only to not stay learned but, if they're even remembered at all, the conclusions drawn from those lessons are often interpreted or remembered incorrectly? "Never again!" and other such exclamations abound at the time. But a few generations later we're at it again.
Well, it's simple really. The "magic words" are of course: generations and time. Lessons learned don't stay fresh in people's memories. The generation that experiences first hand the event or events from which they learn probably will remember the lesson, although even that is not guaranteed with the passing of time. The real watering down of what was learned however happens because all subsequent generations will learn this lesson by proxy. The mechanism that kicks in here is of course that we're much better at learning from our own experience. We don't nearly as often manage to learn from the experience of others.
And so the sequence unfolds:
1. The first generation passes the lesson onto the second who will probably understand it but, because they haven't experienced it for themselves, will potentially not feel as strongly about it as the first generation.
2. The lesson will trickle down from the second generation to the third but probably only in part and furthermore, many won't learn it at all. This third generation will additionally experience very little to none of the immediacy that the first generation had. Their environment will be different because, as well as things having moved on over time, the very lessons learned a couple of generations ago made for changes to their environment in which the dangers and other bad influences were much reduced, to the point even where the human trait of taking things for granted will have kicked in.

And so the lesson that was learned with so much blood and suffering a while back gets diluted over time to a level where it is no longer sufficiently remembered to prevent the whole cycle from starting again and going through yet another iteration. A new generation has to learn the same lesson. The same lesson that has been learned so many times in the past and will continue to be learned over and over in the future as subsequent generations forget or distort what was previously learned...
Useful tools to use in attempting to remember the lessons learned are an accurate knowledge of history and empathy i.e. trying to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Spin and partisan attitudes, combined with the ever-present human tendency towards laziness and lazy thinking, however play havoc with such attempts...
Universal peace and cooperation among all men, á la Star Trek, is wishful thinking. And will remain an unachievable goal.
But more on that some other time.

Update. The following are wonderfully succinct accompanying quotes to this post:

The primary lesson of history is "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it"

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced - even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it.
-- John Keats --

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