Aug 18, 2015

Big Think is Dumbing Down

Summer is here, the weekend in sight, temperatures around 30 degrees (Celsius that is. Do I have to calculate the Fahrenheit for you? Celsius=((Fahrenheit minus 32) divided by two) plus 10 percent. ok?!) - so, temperatures around 30 degrees centigrade slow everything down, nobody wants to move, and except for a few hours a day the brain is idling at best. What better to do with a useless brain than to click on BigThink? Go there and you will find an astonishingly perfect mix of bubbly scientoid superficiality and esoterics. Breathtaking dreamed-up scenarios of thinking robots, brain-transplants (whatch out, brain, I might swap!) and other huge topics dealt with in the typical absolutely mind-numbing mushyness.
'Hey Bill Nye, Could a Black Hole Have Created the Big Bang?'
Yeah, hey, Billy-boy-buddy, whaddaya think? Think Big! That's how physics is done, right? This is science communication - you bet. Think with your hormones, be awesome, wow me. So, could a black hole have created the big bang? hm? His answer: maybe yes, maybe no and "That'd be pretty cool, we think". 
(oh, right, Bill Nye is portrayed as 'Television host and science educator' - one more reason to trash your TV, and one very good argument to mistrust education).
Why is knowledge transfer so often misunderstood as actively dumbing down? The arrogance of such 'science educators' (in BIG air-commas) is unbelievable. The kids out there are much smarter than that and deserve better.
Now back to the beach.

May 20, 2015

free falling

A friend told me he got up with the sun this morning, happy. reading, scribbling - having a coffee and listening to the world slowly waking up. He biked to the office with his brain impatiently humming, his heart beating happily. He caught himself whistling stupid songs. A whole, wonderful day was before him. 

And then he found someone has put this on the desk.


He didn't care.

He said.

But: Was it there yesterday? Was it simply on a scrap-paper he picked up somewhere?
It must have been.
He must have overlooked it.

But if not: Who put it there? Who has access to his office? What is this person trying to say?

Certainly it was just a scribble he inadvertantly picked up. Right? yes, sure.
(....But what if not?)


Mar 1, 2015

Cash, Cancer, Nightmares

A friend of mine, his name is not Francoise, is dying of cancer. Poor chap.  Francoise is a mild man with a wonderful combination of seriousness and humor that makes him so very human. His cancer was discovered late - way too late. He saw a number of doctors all of which are very professional. He got all necessary examinations, lots of highly informed and deeply thoughtful support - but there is a point when things simply don't stop to look daunting anymore. They start to look unsettling and then they give way to pure despair.
Friends of his started an email-campaign asking for help to collect six thousand Euro to get him to Switzerland and have him treated - at a homeopathic clinic. Yes, there still are organizations around that take big money to attack cancer with diluted water the price of gold-plated diamonds. The loving and concerned friends stated that they want to get him out of the hands of 'the pharma lobby' and they pushed him right into the throat of the homeopathy-carnivores. For a two-week stay at that clinic roughly 3000 US$ have to be transferred before arrival. The physicians' bills (adding up to more than 2300 US$) have to be paid *in cash* on site. Cash! Why? Was there ever anyone besides your local heroin-dealer demanding huge amounts of cash? Randomly numbered, crispy, fresh bills?
And what do you get again?
Two (2) weeks, 'Category B room' (shower and toilet down the hall), food, physicians' cost, 'treatment'. Two weeks! about 6000 US$! 
His friends managed to collect the first half in no time and sent Francoise to the clinic. Shortly thereafter an email with the subject-line "Great news about Francoise!" which I happily opened, hoping to see my friend smiling. The great news? "Funding completed". That?
Now, after two weeks in Switzerland my friend returned. He is weak "but getting stronger". Has cancer tightened his grip? His weakness, he says, stems from the problems he had with the clinic-food. Francoise is not from Europe and he got sick from a nutrition he is not used to. He got diarrhea from eating stuff he normally wouldn't. He spent significant time down the hall of his category-B room. What exactly where they talking about during the promised anamnesis which is part of a three hour welcome-package, billed at 600 Swiss Francs?
Now he is back in his dumpy room at home and he asked again if I had a mattress for him. Fortunately he has lovely friends. They help him carry coal up to his apartment and keep the fire burning. They bring him food he knows and loves. He is eating, he will get stronger - until cancer hits back on him.
At the same time in Switzerland I imagine some doctors stash away the cash in pillow-cases. Maybe it helps them sleep better. Maybe it keeps the nightmares away. Their nightmares not his.

Feb 20, 2015

relax!

Computers aren't as evil anymore as they were in my days. You had to be a system-programmer and carry a hot soldering iron in your pocket if you wanted to change the font in a text-document. In the last millennium I was struggling to print out a report on some experiments that had not turned out well at all. I was a bit nervous as it never is a real treat to report on undeniable failure. No data. No explanations. No fame.
But it got worse.
The printer didn't like me.
With the clock ticking away it just covered page after page with astounding garble. Special characters, squares and numbers... You have seen that. That's when the fingers get sweaty and you need a new pair of socks every fifteen minutes. I kicked some boxes, replaced the printer-cable, restarted the bastard, rebooted my computer, printed again.
And the sun came out! Page after crispy page there was my report.
And after the last page, just when I collected my prose, prepared to face my master, the printer had one final message for me.
It printed a single page, covered with hearts and squares and numbers. And in the middle only three intelligible words in bold-face:

relax - do it!

And that's what I did.
Ever since.