Thursday, December 30, 2010

Minesweeper - Windows Vista/Windows 7

Minesweeper is without a question my most favorite computer game. Back when I was a young child and most computers used the Windows 3.1 operating system, Solitaire and Minesweeper were the only two computer games that came pre-installed with the operating system. Since Solitaire offered zero mental stimulation, and I had no real use for computers either way, I used to spend most of my computing time with Minesweeper. Although I started by aimlessly pressing the buttons, I eventually learned the rules, and after some practice began winning games. Eventually I became quite good at it, and I would easily sweep the expert level.

As I became an expert mine sweeper, I began loving the game. It was time to search the Internet for websites that would support my hobby. After clearing the expert level mine field in about 120 seconds, I felt I was probably the Minesweeper world champion. Who else would waste enough time with a silly game to come even remotely close to my timing? However, a small online search was all I needed to discover my error. Many people had beaten the game in less than half my time. Additionally, I found entire websites dedicated to the game, and I learned there were some basic tricks of which I was completely unaware. The website by the name of Authoritative Minesweeper even has a section of World Ranking players. Players on this list were capable of sweeping all the mines in each level with a combine timing of less than 100 seconds. I realized that I was nowhere near the best at the game. I also realized that many other people had much more free time on their hands than I did. My newly found minesweeper company was a source of encouragement, and I continued to improve at the game. I incorporated all the tricks into my playing techniques, and I eventually achieved a World Ranking score. Beginner was swept in 2 seconds, Intermediate was swept in 23 seconds, and Expert was swept in 67 seconds. With those scores I would be considered ranked the 700th best mine sweeper in the entire world! With a ranking like that, who wouldn't love the game?

Recently, however, I have been introduced to a new kind of Minesweeper. Our family computer has been showing the blue screen of death way too many times, and my father decided it was time to buy a new one. The new computer uses Windows 7, and it comes with many more games than previous versions of Windows. Among them is a new and updated version of Minesweeper. This new version offers many new features. Unfortunately, I am very displeased with a majority of the upgrades, and I am quite certain that I am not alone in these opinions. The programmers at Microsoft seem to have little knowledge of public opinion for this game, and some grave mistakes were made with their latest product.

This is the current version of Minesweeper for Windows Vista and Windows 7:

Without any serious inspection, some glaring problems are readily apparent here. The iconic symbol of Minesweeper has been removed from the display. Of course I am referring to the smiley button that used to occupy the top center of the gaming board. This character was quite literally the face of Minesweeper. Aside from completely ruining the appearance of the game, it's now impossible to restart the game by simply clicking on the icon. This brings me to some other problems with the game. Every time one wins or loses, a dialog box asks whether one wishes to play again or cancel. Any experienced mine sweeper knows that this can lead to hours of aggregated "wasted time." Additionally, some extra animations have been added that distract serious players.

I have found many more problems with the new Minesweeper version. The "best time" feature has been modified in an adverse manner. One can no longer submit their names with their best time. I assume this feature was eliminated because many more people have their own personal computers now than when the game was originally programmed. However, I still like to see my name next to my astounding records. Another interesting tweak was the changing of the name of Expert to Advanced. This change is very minor, but it's still a little irritating to those who are big fans of the game. The next change that disturbed me slightly was enacted as a result of some Minesweeper critics. Apparently some people felt the idea of sweeping a mine field as an entertaining game was a little offensive. These people felt that flowers should be used instead. Thankfully, Microsoft has not allowed for a complete destruction of the mine setup, but they have added a compromising feature to the latest version. Those who wish may play flower garden, and navigate through flowers instead of those horrible mines. Personally, this version makes me feel like I winner even when I lose. Instead of seeing a field of mines explode, one sees a field of flowers in bloom. This is not a proper feature for such an intelligent and dynamic game. Finally, perhaps the worst problem with the current version is the restart feature. Being able to restart a game based solely on the hiding of mines seems to be completely absurd. After one sees all the mines, it's quite easy to print the screen, redo the same game, and win in half the time. There is no more credibility in any of the best times. Similar to all the various cheats in the Space Cadet pinball game for Windows, Minesweeper has turned into a big joke. This is very problematic for us serious players. Below I have demonstrated how I can now win a custom board with 67 mines in a 9 by 9 tile grid.

You may also notice the beautiful flowers in this most serious mine sweeping adventure. Such a feat would have been completely impossible without the current methods of cheating.

To be fair, I have to admit that there are some positive features in the new Minesweeper as well. I have to admit that I love seeing a green minesweeper board. Green is my favorite color, and it's great to see my favorite color synthesized with my favorite game. Additionally, the little question mark that appears after one removes a flag is no longer part of the default settings. Professionals have known for years that there was no use for this feature, and it's great to see that the programmers finally agree. Another cool feature with the best time function is the dating of each best time achievement. This is definitely a plus because I love to document great moments in history. Finally, although some of the animations may be annoying, they are easily turned off and on with the click of a mouse. I may be a serious mine sweeper, but there are times when I may find it fun to turn on the animations just to fool around a little.

Minesweeper will never be the same in the Windows Vista/Windows 7 version. I have some major issues with the new form of my favorite game, and I guess I will just have to live with it. This isn't the worst thing in the world, and it should be the biggest of my problems in life. Hopefully I will seamlessly adapt to my new environment, and I will continue to break records during spells of boredom. I have already documented some of my latest winnings in the new version. Here are some of the results:

I hope everyone out there continues to enjoy this wonderful game.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Are you also trapped in your house?

As you may have heard, the north-east coast of the United States has just been hit with a tremendous snow storm. Snow has been hitting all parts of the country since October, and alas New York City has no longer been spared. Although the snow had already been falling yesterday, the strong winds didn't really start until later last night. Anyone who bothered to have a head start on the clean up would have found that any shoveling done at night was completely useless. The wind drifts have a way of distributing the snow in a most unfair manner. As usual, our side of the street was literally covered in 4-5 feet of snow, and the other side of the street was completely clean (now I know why the original owner sold us our house in the spring).

I woke up a little later this morning knowing that there was no way to make the mile and a half commute to my regular shul. I decided to daven at 8:00 AM in the shul around the corner from my house. I was ready to leave at twenty to eight, but I was in for a surprise. The front door simply would not open. After pushing a little with no results, I used the side door instead. I would later realize why the front door would not open.

After making it out the side, I was able to find my way to the street. I noticed some interesting sites during my morning stroll. First of all, it seems like some people still think they can use their cars in these conditions.

This guy's car was parked in middle of the street, and buried in a foot of snow. I was smart enough not to try to pull my car into action.

Can you see where my car is hiding?

Then I witnessed the evils of the wind. If we were all hit uniformly I would have less to complain about. But the snow is always less white on the other side.

This is our side.

This is the other side.

Then I experienced even more evils of the wind. To make my walk more eventful, a big gust blew my hat off my head, and my yarmulke flew under one of the cars. All that care taken to avoid the deep piles was now for naught. I chased after my hat, and found myself waste deep in icy snow. I caught the hat, but couldn't find the yarmulke. There was no time to look for it, or to find my way back into my house. I just put on my hat and continued to walk a little more cautiously.

Obviously, once I made it to the other side my walk was one of negligible distances. I was able to make it there and back in one piece, and I saw my father already trying to form a pathway from the side door (we were not brave enough to try the front door). I jumped into action right away, and started shoveling a path into the street. After that was done I started working on the sidewalk. I had made some progress but my energy was completely sapped. The large naturally formed igloo (with no door) sitting in front of my driveway was just too much for me to move at this time. I started contemplating the idea of burrowing a tunnel through the large snow pile, but I didn't think anyone would be brave enough to traverse a structure of that nature. I had had enough, and I went inside to rest up.

Here is some of my work for the day.

When I came inside to rest, my beard was incased in ice. This was an unusual problem that I had never had before. Fortunately, I had nowhere to go anyway, and I just relaxed in the warmth of my house while my face melted.

This is perfect weather for the unemployed. Nobody seems to be going to work either way, and the trains are all out of service. I guess I am just trapped in my house waiting for the snow to melt. I haven't seen this much snow in front of my house since the blizzard in 1996. This is only the beginning of the winter as well. We seem to be entering some sort of miniature ice age. I think I should head south for the rest of the winter.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Law of Negligible Distances

The weather outside has been quite cold lately, but my body has already adjusted to winter temperatures. My added level of cold resistance gives me the courage to commute long distances on a bicycle in frigid sub-twenty weather. Naturally I must bundle up in a heavy coat and a cotton cap before attempting my mile and a half morning ride. Any long ride in this kind of weather can be incredibly painful especially if one's hands and ears are exposed to the wind. However, for very short commutes, I frequently brave the winter air with nothing more than a flimsy jacket. Even in the dead of winter, one might notice me not wearing a coat while taking a one or two block walk. To explain why I think it may sometimes be perfectly normal to walk in sub-zero weather without proper winter attire, I have developed the law of negligible distances.

The law of negligible distances stems from the common assumption that pain is a function of time. Anyone can endure one tenth of a second of the most excruciating pain. However, even a light headache can become a real annoyance after being subjected to its inflictions for more than a few hours. Parents who love their young children will gladly bring them to the doctor for their necessary vaccines, but they would be deeply disturbed if one of them would have a light fever for more than one day. It is clear that pain is directly correlated with the quantity of time subjected to discomforts. Similarly, the level of cold chills is directly correlated with the amount of time spent in cold conditions. During a long bicycle ride, the cold is overbearing, and proper insulation is necessary to mitigate the painful experience. However, if one is merely taking an ice cream from the freezer, a large overcoat would seem a little superfluous. It makes logical sense, therefore, that the amount of clothing necessary for a walk in the cold should vary directly with the travel distance. The law of negligible distances states that walking a few blocks in the cold should not require a coat. The body can retain enough heat to allow for a comfortable 2-3 block walk, and the pain felt during those last few feet is negligible enough given the small amount of time.

Once my behaviors conform with accepted laws, I need less time explaining to people why I act the way I do. My parents always ask me to put on a coat if our thermometer reads anywhere below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. But sometimes wearing a coat is plainly inconvenient, and the short walk can easily be done without the extra layers. Instead of looking like a fool, and trying to explain why I don't think it is cold enough to require such provisions, I simply explain that I am following the law of negligible distances. My parents always listen to logical reasoning, and such a law is not easily refuted. Similarly, earlier this morning I was leaving my house for a short walk when my next door neighbor was leaving his house as well. He noticed that I wasn't wearing a coat, and he himself had been dressed very appropriately for winter weather. He thought it was a little weird that I was not even wearing a coat when he was all bundled up. I explained to him that it was not very weird at all. It was perfectly consistent with the law of negligible distances. He was about to walk about nine blocks and I was heading around the corner. Having clarified my behavior in a very concise and logical manner, he accepted my point, and we both went on our merry ways.

Some of us wear a coat religiously whenever the temperature drops below 40 degrees. Such a practice is commendable, and well within the norm of socially accepted behavior. However, those of us who feel that it's not completely necessary to sport a ski mask while taking out the garbage can find comfort in the law of negligible distances. One practice should not be considered any crazier than the other. Both are fairly reasonable and logical practices, and the choice should be based on the preferences of each individual. Although we may disagree on which distances are negligible, we agree that negligible distances do exist.

Liquorice Update

These guys really grow fast. Here are some updated photos of our liquorice plants. There are ten of them in total as of now. One of them is already over an inch tall.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Are you one of those guys who still enjoys eating that red candy liquorice? I must admit that I too was very fond of the sweet and sugary flavor of the juicy red sweets. However, since then I have grown out of childish liquorice and I have developed a taste for the more mature version. This liquorice is the real deal.

This original black liquorice with all natural flavors tastes much better than the good old childhood candy. Also, real liquorice can help relieve a sore throat. Once you develop a taste for this stuff it will be very hard for you to even call the other version by the same name. After all, if it tastes like strawberry, why should it be called liquorice? This stuff has natural liquorice flavor, and the other stuff is just candy. You can't find something more real than this!

Actually, I may have exaggerated. I now have something a lot more real than even the black liquorice shown above. My father and I liked the real liquorice so much that we decided to have the real "real" thing. My father bought some liquorice seeds on the Internet, and now we have real liquorice growing on our kitchen window sill!

Here are some of the results thus far.

As you can see, some of the seeds have started to take root, and it looks like some green may be shooting out of the top. Once these plants grow to a large enough size, we may try to plant them in the backyard to see how they grow. Imagine a backyard full of liquorice plants. I wonder if it will smell as good as the candy.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Law By Common Sense

Buckle up motorists - It's the law! And of course, as everyone knows, the law is the law! You follow the law or suffer the consequences. But why is that the case? What gives lawmakers the power to restrict the freedoms of other people? They are human beings just like the rest of us. People should be entitled to do whatever it is they see fit without worrying about the opinions of some law-giving authority.

A perfect system of laws would enable people to do exactly what they feel is appropriate. No individual is logical enough to create perfect laws that would equally apply to all of humankind. In fact, it seems like laws evade logic altogether, and most laws are nothing more than relative social constructs. Therefore, the ideal system would provide laws dictated through a consensus of the general population. When people vote to create laws, they are testifying to the moral superiority of those measures. By the fact that people have agreed to this law, it is apparent that this code of conduct is acceptable to that society, and the people of each locale are therefore free to act exactly how they see fit.

Unfortunately, it is not easy to implement this ideal society, and the kinds of democracy that abound today are only poor approximations of this model. Although people occasionally vote on referendums, and all representative lawmakers have earned their respective positions through popular polls, it is hard to claim that all the laws with all the esoteric language are a fair representation of the popular sentiment. Laws are very complicated, and loopholes are plentiful. Sophisticated politicians use convoluted logical arguments to concoct laws laced with legislative jargon. Very few people know the laws, and even fewer people understand the laws. Lawmakers compose, Judges interpret, and lawyers defend. If the law is far out of the reach of the common individual, it is definitely not the fair rules of conduct acceptable in that locale. Situations like these lead to the abrogation of freedoms.

If laws become too complicated, they cannot be easily justified. A good example of the shortfalls of a complicated structure of laws is the aftermath of the Wikileaks incident. Should we prosecute the founder of Wikileaks website for his misconducts? Lawmakers are not yet certain if he has violated any laws while engaging is his latest whistle blowing actions. But senators are looking far and wide hoping that at least some minor violations would eventually show up. Now ask yourself, if the investigations discover that laws were broken, would it be appropriate to take punitive actions? After all, if senators did not know the law, is it appropriate to hold him accountable for the law? Also, think of what happens if the investigation yields nothing. We may have an individual being vilified by all of humanity yet free of any legal charges. Why should the words in some law book take precedent over national sentiment? It is clear that complicated laws introduced in the current structure of government do not necessarily always represent the popular opinion of right and wrong.

A better form of law would be one that links punitive measures directly to popular opinion. Instead of governing by sophisticated scholarship, people follow common sense. The jury system in the United States represents a good start in the process of reaching this general framework of governing. With a jury, the final decision of guilt results from the popular decision of a few common citizens. It shouldn't matter what the smart judge or the shrewd lawyers have to say. If the people think a man is guilty, he is guilty by definition. The jury system is a good start, but a perfect system would have to augment this basic structure. There should be no laws and no law books. If a person acts in what seems to be an inappropriate manner, a jury would decide whether such actions are indeed unruly. Instead of 6 or 12 people, this jury would have about 30 people. If the jury feels that the person acted inappropriately, then the person has acted outside of the accepted codes of conduct in that locale. After much deliberation, the jury would decide the proper consequences as well. However, if these people find that the defendant has done nothing wrong, he or she has acted in a lawful manner.

With such a system in place, people would be free to do what they themselves have deemed appropriate. People need only act with common sense, and they wouldn’t have to worry about unknowingly violating esoteric laws. A law that does nothing more than to encourage people to act with common sense can be justified as a law that should bind all of us. We are not limiting anyone’s freedoms. Rather, we are collectively doing what we want.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Adaptive Commuting Theory

Being the kind of guy who welcomes phone calls and never takes steps to bring a conversation to a close, I typically have phone conversations lasting until the early morning hours. This tendency can cause problems for someone who wakes up at 5:40 AM in order to attend daily morning prayers services located a mile and a half away. Going to bed late inevitably leads to a late rise, and an already stressful morning is compounded with additional time constraints. After sloppily tending to all the necessary morning chores, I am left with only one venue for mitigating the unbearable time pressure: The commute.

The time needed for commuting is frequently underestimated, especially when dealing with relatively short distances. If an appointment is scheduled for 10:00, and I leave my house at 9:45, it doesn't usually bother me that the normal travel time for that distance is twenty five minutes. To the contrary, if I happen to be running late, I typically plan to gain back lost time by commuting a little faster. When commuting by bicycle, there is always extra energy stored somewhere in my legs specially made available for these circumstances. When commuting by automobile, I push the gas peddle just a little closer to the floor. Even when commuting by train, I can play some neat tricks by transferring to express trains and then returning to local trains. The later I am, the faster I commute. The extra adrenaline rush helps me perform maneuvers that would have been unthinkable during a normal ride. I can sleep comfortably at night knowing that my adaptive commuting theory can take care of any delay that may arise from my tardy awakening.

Unfortunately, my beautiful theory of everything is lacking in one minor detail: There are other people on the road and there are other people in the trains. These people are going about there daily routine, and the fact that I am in a mad rush doesn't seem to cross their minds. While I slam the door, gun the engine and floor the gas peddle, a different and completely random human being is going about his daily drive in his good old humdrum manner. Although my world may be rushing, planet Earth isn’t rotating any faster. People of all kinds are capable of throwing a monkey wrench into adaptive commuting theory. School buses, garbage trucks, ambulances, fire trucks, pedestrians, cyclists, people looking for parking spots, people taking my potential parking spots, people double parking, people triple parking, people becoming sick on trains and people casually driving for fun, are all potential shocks to this otherwise perfect equilibrium. Although at least some of these threats should be anticipated, they are frequently overlooked.

These disturbances add elements of uncertainty to adaptive commuting theory. Can the commute really be relied upon to make back lost time? Some days I wake up late, yet everything works according to theory. On other days, I find myself stuck behind a garbage truck while circling for parking. This morning I was able to experience the clear contrast between both of these options during my daily commute.

I had been chatting with my brother until 1:00 AM, and the conversation only came to a close after his phone's battery went dead. With a working alarm clock and a theory of commuting, I fell into a peaceful slumber. At 5:40 AM an annoying alarm began slowly invading my dreams. I hit the snooze button three times and turned on the radio while only 10% awake. When I finally realized that all the vicious murder and robberies were not coming from my imagination but from 1010 WINS, it was already 6:20. I was running late! I had to reach my destination by 6:40! I hurried as fast as I could, and I was in the car and ready to go by 6:33.

I knew that I could make it on time if everything went according to theory. I backed up my one-way street to avoid a strategically placed traffic light. Approaching the first intersection, a delivery truck passed me by and stopped at the light. I was in no mood of following that slow moving vehicle, but there appeared to be no other option. The clock ticked to 6:36. Four minutes was more than enough with no lights and no trucks. After following the truck a few blocks, I noticed a red light ahead. It was at this point that I devised a plan to beat the traffic. I turned on a side street hoping to use a different avenue. As I raced down the block at about 40 mph, I noticed a car with New Jersey plates just thoughtlessly moving out of a parking spot. This time I floored the brakes, and was about to hit the horn. Didn't this guy realize that I was in a hurry? I held myself back from honking him, and I watched as he slowly and aimlessly glided through the yellow light, leaving me in the red. I didn't believe what had happened. I missed a crucial light because someone from a different state couldn't realize that my schedule was at stake. After waiting at two lights it was already 6:40. To make matters worse, I saw the same truck pass me by as I was waiting at the light. It turns out that my trick had made me even more late. It seemed like the commute would not be as adaptable as anticipated.

My plan failed and I was already late, but I wanted to be less late than more late. At this point I was ready to fly. The light turned green and I hit the gas. Light after light, I continued at a cruising speed of at least 45 mph. There were no cars! My plan was now working. I turned on a side street, found parking instantly, and arrived at my destination. It was only 6:43, and I managed to make up the lost time. The extra will power propelled by my desire for being slightly less late managed to shorten the commuting time substantially. The commuting theory had been partially vindicated.

I found partial evidence for adaptive commuting theory, but it still seems like giving one's self plenty of extra time for the commute is definitely the ideal. I have found that commutes can be completely unpredictable, and adaptive solutions can have equally unpredictable consequences. I still remember the time when I kept missing the train because I was switching back and forth between different platforms. I waited at one platform, watched one train after another arrive at the other platform, and finally switched platforms right before my train would arrive. Fortunately, my destination was only the Bronx Zoo. Commuting time should never be underestimated, and negative shocks frequently offset any gains produced through fanciful tricks. However, for the days that I happen to wake up late, I find comfort in fooling myself into thinking that the commute is relatively flexible.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Overanalyzing Stupid Questions

Some people are blessed with the ability to laugh at dumb jokes. Other people are slightly less fortunate, and plain corny jokes produce nothing more than a cold stare. People that laugh at dumb jokes are easily entertained and generally affable, while those who can't find humor in cute puns are hard to impress and difficult to befriend. I happen to not fit either of these categories. When I hear a corny joke I am genuinely entertained, and I typically give plenty of laughs. However, if I see any illogical points associated with the humorous tidbits I make sure its author is aware of them. First comes the laugh, and then comes the critique. People find themselves in a puzzling situation. Should they tell me their jokes or should they not? Most people appreciate my laughing, but few appreciate the follow up commentary. Although I believe I have been gifted with an appreciation for stupid jokes, my over-analysis needs to be dealt with.

A good example of my over-analysis of jokes took place a few weeks ago during a train ride. While on the train I was overhearing a few loud girls talking about random things. My ears perked up when I heard one of them ask a theoretical question that sounded like it would introduce a pun. "What would you do if you were stuck in a car and you had a baseball bat?" the girl asked. Before I could hold myself back, the over-analysis power was already in full force. I realized that since the obvious answer was to smash the windows with the baseball bat, it was obviously not the correct answer. Then I thought of a stupid but slightly amusing answer. Could it be that the answer is just to unlock the door? I thought this could not be the answer because it would violate the premise of the question. If you are really stuck, you can't just unlock the door. The other girls said that they would smash the windows open. Then the girl replied: "Why would you smash the windows? Just unlock the door!" At that point I realized that I had overanalyzed the joke. I also realized that a better solution would have been to put the keys in the ignition and drive off. If stuck doesn't really mean stuck, anything can be the answer.

A few days later I was going out for pizza with a friend of mine when the same question came back to haunt me. This friend of mine was trying to test my personality to see how I would react in dire circumstances. He came up with a brilliant question. Unfortunately, I had not learned my lesson regarding my over-analysis of theoretical questions. "Chaim," he asked. "What would you do if you were trapped in a room and you had no way of getting out?" Without even giving the question much thought I already had the answer. I had overanalyzed this question days earlier. I told him I would do absolutely nothing. Before I could explain my deep analysis I was enduring a series of insults belittling my foolishness and laziness. I knew it was too late to save myself, but I figured I would give it a try. "What would you do?" I asked. He answered in a very passionate manner. "I would yell and scream, I would start praying really fervently, and I would bang hard on the door." Then I asked him why he would bother doing those things if it was impossible to escape. He brushed away my point, and told me not to overanalyze stupid questions.

I have learned that acting illogically is very important in certain circumstances. When being told corny jokes it's always nice to just give a little laugh and ignore any logical flaws. After hearing an inspiring story, common courtesy tells me that I should at least pretend to be emotionally moved. It shouldn't matter if the story sounds like a commonplace occurrence. Overanalyzing may lead to logical conclusions, but logical conclusions are not always the end all.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Religious Umbrella Users

As a former religious umbrella user I feel I am qualified to tell over my experiences with umbrella abuse, and I think my story will be inspirational to all of those who find themselves in similar circumstances. Breaking any habit is never easy, and I hope people will learn from my story, and not falter the same way I have.

As a religious umbrella user I used an umbrella whenever it rained. Although, this practice may sound quite innocent at first, a further description would reveal the dangers of such practices. I would wake up on rainy mornings hearing the buckets of water splashing against the awning of my side door. With my umbrella in hand, I would embrace the wild weather with dauntless strides. Never did I lose faith in my umbrella, even in the toughest of monsoons. Over the years I began relying more and more on my umbrella to keep me dry. Many a day I would leave my house with no rain coat; just my good old umbrella at my side. Unbeknown to myself, I had become a confirmed religious umbrella user. What started as a harmless fad was now a real addiction. Although only three of its eight original ribs still worked, and the cloth had a big hole running right through the middle, I never doubted my umbrella for a second. I had perfect faith that this device was all that was needed to keep me completely dry.

A few weeks back my faith was seriously challenged, and ever since that incident my passion for umbrellas just hasn't been the same. Like any other rainy morning, I braved the streets with my trusted friend. I laughed at people with raincoats, and I mocked those who would stay indoors. Suddenly, I noticed something very peculiar. Although I was using an umbrella, I still seemed to be soaking wet. The wind blew the rain at me from all angles, and the mere two feet of plastic above my head was doing nothing for my pants. Doubts over the effectiveness of umbrellas began entering my thought patterns. I willed such blasphemes out of my conscious mind, and I continued to hold onto the umbrella with unbreakable faith. However, the biggest challenge had yet to come. Suddenly, a big gust of wind turned my umbrella inside out, and an enormous amount of drenching power was unleashed on my various articles of clothing. I wasn't taken yet. Being the warrior that I was I battled the rain head on. I skillfully positioned the umbrella causing the wind to work in my favor. The umbrella was back, and the battle continued. Gusts of wind came from every direction, but I kept repositioning my raingear. I remember onlookers watching me from the comforts of their automobiles. I was in a raging battle in what resembled a sword fight with nature. I put up a resilient fight, but the wind was just too powerful for me to endure.

After a good five minute duel, my energy was sapped, and I surrendered to the storm. I closed the broken umbrella and put down my hands. The cold rain smacked against my cheeks as I solemnly treaded back to my house. Like a sponge, my clothing soaked in all the rain, and I no longer resisted the forceful winds. Once defeated, I knew that my faith in umbrellas had come to an end. I would no longer trust them to keep me dry. After arriving back home, I changed into some dry clothing, put on a good waterproof raincoat, and promptly drove the car to my destination.

I wonder how many people put their faith in umbrellas. How many people use umbrellas even though they don't work? Many people think as I did; if you are using an umbrella you will be just fine. I have found to my dismay that umbrellas don't seem to do their job. I have left the group of religious umbrella users, and I now find it amusing to watch people battle the wind as I used to do. Aside from not working (a minor issue), umbrellas are constantly misplaced, and the broken ones are usually the only ones available during a time of need. Although I admit to still using umbrellas on occasion, I feel I am better off now that I am well aware of their limitations. I think umbrellas should come with a disclaimer warning the user about their potential misuses, and I wouldn't mind if each one came with a copy of a story such as mine for the purchaser’s perusal. I know it is hard for some people to break the habit and give up the umbrella. But I think after reading my inspirational story, people will think twice before relying on a flimsy piece of plastic to protect one’s self from buckets of water.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Last Night Of Chanukah 2010

Does anyone else take pictures of their menorah? There is a lot of momentum building up with each successive night. First we start off lighting one wick. Then we light two and then we light three. Before you know it, we are lighting eight wicks, and the menorah is completely full. At this last night there is a lot of excitement in the air (not to mention all the smoke). I find it hard to just let all that excitement go to waste. In order to keep the momentum going, I have to document every step of the final life of each flame. I carefully film the last light as it gasps for oil. Once I have taken the pictures and the videos I can rest assured that I have fully experienced those last moments of the Chanukah menorah.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Good = Pleasure

Defining the most basic concepts can be quite difficult. The foundations of all knowledge are based on postulates that can neither be proved nor disproved. Starting with self-evident statements, a solid framework is created, and useful conclusions can be universally accepted. When delving into philosophical thought, it is especially important to agree on definitions, and thereby avoiding countless amounts of arguments that would otherwise result. After a long debate over which circumstances are considered "good" for each person, it became obvious that a proper definition of "good" would have been able to provide the necessary clarity to avoid useless bickering.

Before pondering the nature of true "good" in the world, I must begin by first clearly defining "good." Using no philosophical pondering, I will simply define "good" as pleasure. Having done that, the definition of pleasure may need to be specified as well. However, some words are too basic to possibly be defined, and can easily be understood remaining undefined. The concept of "pleasure" seems like a good candidate for this category. In other words, pleasure is readily apparent when it is experienced, and no further definition is necessary. My definition of "good" has asserted that the experience associated with pleasure is exactly the same as that which should be associated with good. Therefore, in further philosophical debates, good and pleasure can be interchanged.

What makes this definition important? At first glance such a trivial definition seems to add nothing, and no debates are avoided by clarifying this point. However, the difference in context of the normal usage of these two words may lead some people to debate this definition. Although pleasure is readily apparent to everyone, "good" may be easily misconstrued as something else. Pleasure is usually used to describe more simple situations, but "good" is commonly used in more complicated ones. For this reason one rarely comes across an argument regarding the nature of pleasure, but arguments over sources of true good constantly abound. Once good has been defined to be completely inseparable from pleasure, more complicated situations can be analyzed, and agreements are easily attained.

Using this definition of "good," ask yourself some questions. Firstly, is it ever good for anyone to suffer? Before pondering any further, notice that suffering is the antithesis of pleasure. It becomes clear that deriving pleasure through suffering is a paradox, and it should never be good for someone to suffer. Secondly, can someone do “good” for someone else by doing something that he or she doesn't like? Again, if it is assumed that pleasure by definition is liked, and good by definition is pleasure, it is not possible for someone to derive pleasure from something that is not liked. Therefore, one would never be doing “good” for someone if the result is not something that the individual would like.

Although these results may seem counterintuitive and flawed, deeper analysis can lead to a resolution. When one describes a painful procedure as being good for the patient, he or she thinks the patient will have an overall net gain of pleasure from the benefits outweighing the negatives. In economics, the concept of maximizing intertemporal utility describes the nature of a person trying to gain the most pleasure over an entire lifetime. Although at times a decision may have painful repercussions, it is believed that an overall assessment of the future lifetime will be that of a net gain in pleasure. Similarly, when one decides what is good for another person, it is assumed the helping party feels that he or she possesses the knowledge for maximizing lifelong pleasure that the receiving party may lack. The word "good" still means pleasure, but the pleasure is presenting itself in a more complicated situation.

In the Jewish religion, a similar concept can be found when discussing the afterlife as a reward for fulfilling the Torah's laws. In the Jewish world view, all that is created is good. Therefore, if some things don’t seem pleasurable, they must be a result of an individual’s misdeed. Although this is a good attempt, there are still some evils in the world that seem to befall everyone, and very few people can truly testify that life was a pleasurable experience. To reconcile a good world with an unpleasant existence, an afterlife must exist in which reward is given to those who deserve it. This proof of the afterlife stems from the definition of good as that which is pleasurable, and the assumption that the world exists for the good of humans. The pleasure is relegated to the next world to explain the fact that most people don't enjoy themselves in this world.

Although people may disagree over the source of true good, it is important that both parties at least agree on the definition of good. This small clarification can lead people to agree on many more concepts than they originally thought.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thoughts on TSA procedures

Not everyone agrees that security trumps all. Some people would sacrifice their security for other agendas. The terrorists are willing to die in order to earn their reputation in the next world. Similarly, many people would take the risk of giving up their lives rather than being subjected to sexual abuse. Jewish law requires one to give up his life in order to avoid engagement in certain promiscuous acts. Although most people agree that security is an important matter, some people would rather take on the extra risks than being subjected to intrusive searches. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has decided that the measures being taken (though admittedly intrusive) are the appropriate course of action given the circumstance of today's threats. They have implicitly decided that these intrusive measures are still worthwhile if they will save lives. But how intrusive does a search have to be before it's too much?

I don't fly too much, but I can see how people would be frustrated with the new screening techniques. The Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines basically allow security personnel to see right through peoples' clothing. Although the images are supposed to be deleted immediately, hundreds of pictures have already turned up on the Internet. One is allowed to opt out of these machines, but the alternative is an almost invasive pat-down. Many stories of humiliated passengers have been flooding the Internet, and pictures of these pat-downs have made headlines. It doesn't seem like there are too many options for those who fly. Either use the AIT machine but risk your picture being on the Internet, or take a pat-down but risk humiliation. There must be a better solution to this problem than to subject people to these screening measures.

Unfortunately, I can't think of any method of screening for terrorists that could be less intrusive. If we are trying to avoid all terrorist attacks then we must subject everyone to a thorough search. Terrorist have shown that they can hide explosives anywhere in their bodies. We must remove our shoes because of the shoe bomber, and we must endure a pat-down because of the underwear bomber. It seems like security comes with a price tag, and we must all pay it if we want to avoid all possible threats. Imagine a passenger with an explosive in his or her underwear. During a pat-down, the explosive device would be felt by the agent and a further investigation would be warranted. The passenger would be cursing the TSA through the whole procedure for being treated in such a humiliating manner. Once caught however, it would be clear that the procedure was worthwhile. With every new terrorist attack we will be forced to devise more intrusive security measures. With subway bombing we would have to screen subway passengers. With car bombing we will have to screen automobile drivers. With more and more security measures we will continue to lose more and more of our freedom. If we are willing to pay anything for security eventually we will be paying everything.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Craigslist Scams

When a normal person falls for a scam the reaction is one of dismay and depression. When I fall for a scam, I admire the creativity involved in the plot. Unfortunately, the experience also justifies my pessimistic outlook on human behavior, and I continue to lose faith in the goodness of humanity. Today, I didn't exactly fall for a scam, but I witnessed some very impressive and rather revolting tricks being orchestrated through craigslist.

Many people are desperate for jobs these days, and many other people have found methods of preying on others despair. A friend of mine had some success finding some unpaid internships through craigslist, and he convinced me that the site is a great place for finding work. After a casual search through the site, I noticed a job opening that looked very appealing. It involved office work, and it had a relatively high salary. I figured that it couldn't hurt to apply. After emailing a resume, I received a reply that looked very promising. But then a few hours later I received two more emails from a different email address. Something didn't seem right. The first email asked me to take an online IQ test, and then schedule an interview. The second email asked me to sign up to another job site in order to post my resume there. After going through the IQ test I was asked to give a phone number. I was about to sign-up for some mobile content for $10 a month. Needless to say, I didn't feel I needed mobile content. However, I did sign up for the job site given in the second email (I figured it couldn't hurt). I replied to the first email saying that I didn't feel that I needed mobile content, and I would like to schedule an interview. A few minutes later I receive another email from a different recruiter thanking me for submitting my resume and requesting that I check my credit score before scheduling an interview. Naturally, they were nice enough to give me a website with which to check my credit score (complete with a nice place to give my credit card information). I decided that I had better places to spend my money.

These scams are pure works of art. Who better to prey on than people desperate for jobs? The posting asking for a credit score was brilliant. I was asked to use their specific website so as not to have to spend money at other websites. The email also carefully instructed me not to send a complete copy of the results as that would divulge confidential information. I could see someone easily falling prey to such a beautiful scam. And the IQ test scam was brilliant as well. Just give us your score on this easy exam that you think makes you the perfect candidate for a nonexistent job. And sign up for some mobile content while you're at it. The brilliance behind these scams is truly worth noting. I love seeing creativity, and I wish I could have thought of such things.

Unfortunately, this kind of creativity is not making our world a better place. Just thinking that someone would try to scam people looking for work gives me stomach problems. Sometimes I resent the progress created with the advent of the Internet and technological advancement. To start, imagine a world without junk mail or spam. Can you picture a scribe of the good old days carefully scribbling spam for a mass mailing with the pony express? I think words were meaningful in those days. Today, I consider the Internet to be one big joke. The faster we can compute, the faster we can produce junk.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My Esrog Tree Is Now One Year Old!!!

In case there was any confusion about the picture of a plant that occupies my profile, let me introduce to you my esrog tree. Last year my esrog was dissected and some esrog seeds were preserved on cotton. This process has been done for years, but I have never had any substantial results. This year the seeds finally germinated, and the result has been some very nice house plants, and some equally nice blog pictures. To celebrate the birthday of my tree, I have shared some of the pictures of the various stages of growth over the course of this year.

Also, there is another plant which sits on the other side of the window sill that is a younger brother to this one. Unfortunately, this plant suffers from Second Child Syndrome, and I don't have half as many pictures of it as I do of the first one. It was a little late to the game so it doesn't even get a birthday party.

Even if the second one suffers from SCS, at least it did not suffer the fate of the purple plant shown in some of the pictures above. My mother always hated that plant, and eventually it had to go.

Now you see it

Now you don't