Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Regarding Education - Success by Proxy

This brief essay is a response to this story about Harvard Universities average grade being an A-.

I've been lead to believe that ivy league schools are expensive so one may say they have been there, thus showing they have some prior amount of wealth and status (that usually comes with wealth unless you are very, very new money). People are lead to believe that these schools offer higher education and churn out brighter minds because of a campuses educational infrastructure and history. This is not to say that ivy league schools do not have greater amounts of bright minds, that may be true. But it would be more accurate to give credit to other factors than the academic infrastructure of the western education system.

Factors like having a rich networking pool, better campus resources & general safety & support from school faculty give agency to a broader spectrum of students. A simpler explanation for the success of students from ivy league schools is that the students enter already in a state of success by proxy.

In Harvard's case we have a homogenized education system; education requirements are reduced or altered so everyone is lead to believe they are a bright mind which removes the essence from education. This is different than some European & Asian models (still far from perfect) which creates a system where education is mostly the same, for all, but not at the cost of reducing the curriculum. Instead it's at the cost of overworking students.

Fixing the problem will be difficult, but there's a reason to fix it:
Better education is important not just for some meaning of benevolence but it's also economically beneficial (Jeffery Sachs has a chapter dedicated to this in "The Price of Civilization") . Fixing it will require looking at fundamental methods of teaching. We cannot just put more money into a broken education system and hope that it will produce better students the way ivy league schools sometimes can, & this is only a small margin due to having better infrastructure. There are fundamental issues with education and there are arguements still to consider, such as the Hegelian thoughts on workers education versus one of the plutocracy.A major way to help this problem in education would be to remove competetive grading. This is done in most private schools and some European countries, all that rank higher in education than the United States.

Another way to fix the problem of grade fixing and education catering to those that want success by proxy at the cost of those that want an education everywhere else would be to teach chemistry instead of recipe. This is an example from Bertrand Russell that offers a choice; would you rather teach a cook the chemistry of cooking, why things turn black when you cook them, how to tell when food is done by listening to a sizzle, the changes in properties of chemicals while cooking, or.... would you rather give them a recipe and teach them how to do. That. Recipe.

Homogenized education systems like Harvard's are like resort get away destination vacation packages. You could fly in any direction you pick, land in an island of mystery, wonder, history and life, only to be carted straight through to a Starbucks, past the shoe shiner and straight to the swim up bar where watered down, pre-mixed tequila's await and we're only two hours away from a show by a Tony Bennett cover artist. The same experience, every week, for as long possible as long as it's profitable.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

I Don't Believe in Disney because I Don't Believe in Racists

While browsing Reddit I came to a link to a blog post by Shane Perez that described a hidden island in the Walt Disney Theme park that has been closed since 1999. The post is an interesting if short read but the comments section that follows is where the story for this post begins.

After the Reddit post there seemed to be a influx of Disney/anti-Semite/art-hater trolls claiming that the individuals that swam to the closed island risked *the ticket prices of Disney being higher if they were somehow harmed*. They weren't worried about the story or the outcomes for the individuals, they were worried about the story & outcome for *Disney* and their ticket prices. Also, the possible savings for their family/themselves (I wonder what percentage of patrons at Disney theme parks travel/attend alone).

Here's the post that got me irked:

"Cool pictures. Dumb stunt.

I'm glad it turned out well, but I don't like to think of the impact on my ticket prices if you'd been injured/killed. Disney would have been sued (and probably won given that the activity being undertaken was against at LEAST Disney policy), but lawsuits cost money and the additional safety precautions that came about would have cost money too.

Please don't go out of your way to make life more restrictive and more expensive for everyone else, OK?"

And my response:

I cannot believe the trolls here who complain that somehow the blogger, Mr. Shane Perez, is screwing over patrons of Disney by potentially making ticket prices higher if he or his fellow adventurers were somehow injured.

This is missing the forest for the trees.

Disney is the IBM of WW2. Actually, Disney is the Disney of its whole existence; destroying the lives of artists (Disney and Target Screw the Little Guy) (see also Disney Shuts Down LucasArts), squeezing blood from stones (Dali Worked with Disney), butchering classics (7 Classic Disney Movies Based on R-Rated Stories) & rampant racism/propaganda (Mickey Mouse & Racial Epitaphs).

Note; I used to sell vacation packages for Disney during a stint as a travel agent. One of the worst experiences of my life; trying to convince people to go to a vapid, racist location that is also one of the worst vacation values imaginable.

So to whoever wrote this:

Anonymous1/21/12, 3:30 PM "Cool pictures. Dumb stunt... Please don't go out of your way to make life more restrictive and more expensive for everyone else, OK?"

I say: you're a troll who works for Disney and/or one of the half asleep sheep of this world. If it's the former, hope one day your pocket book is full enough for these sort of embarrassments to be not required for you to make rent. Or, if it is what you believe, I hope one day you do everyone close to you in your life a favor and care more for your local community and fellow man.

Shame on anyone for attempting to discredit the benevolence of adventure for the sake of empowering the oligarchy.


Disney and Target Screw the Little Guy

Disney Shuts Down LucasArts

Mickey Mouse & Racial Epitaphs

Dali Worked for Disney

7 Classic Disney Movies Based on R-Rated Stories

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Fixing Poverty, the Meaning of Life & It's Okay to be Depressed - or - How to Save the World Through Utopian Fiction

The current social climate & general awareness of our species self-accelerated extinction has left the world, perhaps justifiably, with an over-saturation of dystopian stories. Zombie apocalypse is now its own genre with small variations of format; fast zombies, zombies in Europe, zombies in snow, paleo-zombies, vampire zombies... Like many other people I have gone through periods of indulging in these dystopian stories in one format or another. At first I suspected that such enjoyment originated from the love of macabre that seems to permeate into some aspect of every depressed persons life, but after some time I begin to conclude that the love of stories about societies fall are more complex than that. Going further, that dystopian stories are effective as a warning message but will always fall one step back of solving societies problems because the very nature of a dystopian novel is the fall of society.

Today there is a need to 'fight back' by demanding, or creating, more Utopian stories as a way of commenting on the problems with the world today while also offering possible solutions; where dystopia glances Utopia inquires & acts.

There are three main stages of realization of life; the first is how to survive which involves learning (how to eat, walk, climb a tree, etc), drama (relationships, stubbing a toe) and comedy (watching someone else stub their toe). Then there's surviving at a consistent pace (also known as "being in a  rut") and with this comes boredom and depression which people satisfy with illusions like the offerings of the entertainment industry which is over saturated in advertisements, promotes wasteful excess & is almost always vapid and often times immoral.

When one is surviving/in-a-rut they eventually become depressed, wanting 'more'. This is when people turn to dystopian storytelling, for a two fold reason. First, dystopian stories show that there is an existence worse than our own (a strange form of shock doctrine) that, even though it is fictional, usually does not stray to far from reality (for example; the failure of nuclear deterrence during the cold war is often used as the starting point for dystopian stories). Second, dystopian novels offer a way for in-a-rut/frustrated/confused/angry people to soothe their evolving presuppositions.The final stage is trying to change things around a person that affect their life in a manner that brings success (not monetary), & this is where the theme of Utopia excels.

When one is surviving and 'in-a-rut' they start to question presuppositions to life (what we have to know without knowing of it). Questions come up such as what do I do next or how come other people aren't able to be complacent or, the usual big one, what is the meaning to our/this/a life.

Looking for meaning to life is like looking for meaning in nature; something that's capable of both waterfalls & AIDS, rainbows & tsunamis, diversity & chaos. Life 'is'; it exists therefore we are. This means that there is reason for our species to try to control nature due to its unpredictability. Imagine if the tornadoes that have ravaged the Midwest for years, 7 times in Oklahoma in about as many years (ABC News), had their terrible power weakened or deflected. While this is not possible & an extreme example it only helps illustrate the validity of exploring certain aspects of nature to better our species.

I believe no one would argue that manipulating nature in a careful & consistent manner is desirable for our species, even among organic farmers & those that are ecologically minded. This is because organic farming itself is a manipulation of nature, but a good one, much as removing cancer is a manipulation of nature. That's not to say that GMO food is the answer to food production, which is potentially just as absurd as denying modern cancer treatment if available (and insured) or not improving preventive medicine.

Those that work hard to question the loose regulations of the industrial food industry are wise to do so; hardly any research goes into modified crops & no one likes walking through a mine field blindfolded. Still, if nature were to run completely on its own that would not be the ideal situation for our species. So one should not become complacent but one should learn where to direct their energy so that they can have a life where their actions affect the things around them. That brings us to the third stage of the realization of life; Utopia or active change.

The concept of utopia is frustrating because "people see that utopia is possible in there lifetime, right now, but it is not happening" (The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, Zizek).  These reasons are due to poverty, education, healthcare & ability to live/work/do-what-you-do/whatever-you-want-to-call-it being possible for all but not distributed fairly. Fixing poverty is not something I want to say is simple because I am not qualified to make that generalization but anyone can easily find proof of bad behavior from the super-rich that imbalances the world. This is a historical trope through time; those in power that have been abused will abuse those they try to subjugate, usually by reducing agency & income under the mask of efficiency, nationalism and job creation. Considering this, the next step is to locate where to start creating a better balance. That would be by reducing the size of the largest entities that are destroying the source, much how cloning insects will decimate a plant by feeding on its chloroplast to the point of killing itself. This happens in an ecosystem if the insect is not practicing niche separation (this is usually due to an invasive species, botanically meaning non-native). The source is the economy/citizens/raw-resources but in a more physical sense. The silly notion of constant perpetual wealth must not be completely destroyed, as that would so damage the illusion of those entranced they would not be able to handle the change (and indeed may riot themselves) but simply capped or changed to prevent such flagrant abuse, much like using niche separation & population control so that both the mentioned insect & plant survive. Consider the separation of church and state; neither wanted the other removed but through time they have challenged each other when the other gets to large. The third player, the market based economy, entered the ring (for the West) a few hundred years ago (arguably around the 16th-17th century) & now battles with the other two. Regarding poverty, consider that the top 100 richest people in the world could end poverty according to Oxfam. Seventeen organizations form the confederacy that is Oxfam who work in over 90 countries to try to create a "just world without poverty" & they "envision a world in which people can influence decisions which affect their lives, enjoy their rights, and assume their responsibilities as full citizens of a world in which all human beings are valued and treated equally." (Oxfam International)

While the giants of religion, state & economy battle over who gets to destroy the source the quickest the general public suffers. Since this is a long historical trope (for those that disagree please see: there have always been forecasters of both the problems & possible future for society & it's economy (since the two are so intertwined/connected). Economists like Jeffrey Sachs have said that "Extreme poverty can be ended, not in the time of our grandchildren, but our time." (Earth Institute). Adding to the frustration are statistics from Oxfam Canada that reveal the world produces 17% more food per person today than 30 years ago (Oxfam Canada) but more than 14% of the worlds population goes hungry, possibly much more (World Hunger Education). These conditions cause people to have a general feeling of uncertainty & frustration which causes dystopian stories to becoming alluring, usually as a form of releasing those frustrations and uncertainties. This can be a tragic thing; dystopian storytelling takes energy away from individuals that could instead make active change.

Aaron Swartz, one of the creators of Reddit who was persecuted for downloading to many academic articles (this lead to his suicide) wrote:

"No, you can’t force other people to change. You can, however, change just about everything else. And usually, that’s enough" (Raw Thought).

The importance of having agency to make change is obvious; its a silent presupposition. This agency has been continually reduced among the general people across the world, a trope that emerges when any organization/entity becomes to large with unchecked power/to-fail. This brings me to the final stage of this 3 stage approach of realization of life; working to make things better, working for the utopia. This is a life long step where one moves in a direction toward solving the problem rather than being a part of the problem. Being active in ones community is a cornerstone of this as well as questioning problems so they are properly identified. This allows for more efficient policy making as well as general thinking. It's important to note that actively working for the better conditions and agency of the general population is usually a gradual change & does not happen overnight or easily. On the plus side, it doesn't taste bitter in the slightest & becomes preferable in time.

Some people may not want to get involved or work harder toward better communities because it does not provide a quick or easy route to happiness. The role of happiness is important to consider because it is unethical, but not mutually exclusive, from Utopia.

Working for the better of others should not be about happiness. Happiness should not even be a goal, but it is a wonderful side effect that happens when people can influence decisions which affect their lives. Consider the arctic climber who screams joy at the top of his lungs only to sit shocked in belief, all over an old stash of cheese doodles (Basic Needs, Extreme Happiness). When asked what makes happiness the climber said "30 days of starvation" (Radiolab). So happiness comes from sometimes arbitrary things. Happiness can also be used in a negative way which is most easily noted in any form of shock doctrine to control populations as seen in Pinochet’s coup in Chile in 1973, the Falklands War in 1982, the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Asian Financial crisis in 1997 and Hurricane Mitch in 1998. In short, happiness is not a barometer for living life in a moral or efficient way.

Zizek had this to say on happiness:

"You can be happy without being moral. You can be happy without being interesting or engaged in the world around you. You can be happy without having a single creative idea or interest or passion. You can get everything you desire, and still not be happy. So why even focus on finding bliss?" (Big Think)

If understanding the problems to life seem difficult then fixing them can seem almost insurmountable. Still, the cart must come before the horse. Instead of a Utopian story that goes back, usually circa WW2 to re-imagine how our society could of been through alternative history games, there should be utopian novels and serials in all mediums that imagine the very realistic possibility of Utopia being achieved right now, in real life.

Works Cited

The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, Slavoj Zizek.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Reverse Nationalism: Milton's Presupposition Of Censorship

Empires have historically thrown a smokescreen of innocence over forms of censorship that's purpose is to disingenuously control a population. One of the earliest manifestations of censorship comes from England around 1530 & continues until the 1660's. The lack of a public forums during this time translated into information that was easy for the Monarch to control; whenever a public forum gained to much popularity (usually through theater and the arts) England was quick to assign a Master of Revels, a group that pre-censors all content not from the crown . While laws are altered after the English Revolution the most substantial change had its catalyst with the publication of John Milton's Areopagitica in 1664. In this appeal, which originally circulated as an illegally printed pamphlet, is a challenge to the states position on censorship and an attempt by Milton to redefine an English citizens silent presuppositions to knowledge. 

Silent presupposition is that which “teaches us what we have to know without knowing it in order to function” (Zizek). At the time of Areopagitica's publication the state was censoring the press for the the apparent good of the people for so many generations it had changed the instinctual responses citizens had to censorship. The public was told there was no right for a place of philosophical discourse. This is an early example of shock doctrine; by creating a situation of increasingly reduced agency parliament would justify it's actions as being better than the alternative when it's actions would only diminish the source. The real reason for the early days of censorship of the press was to create a form of control for state benefit at the cost of the unknowing people. 

By radically rearranging the qualities of what defines knowledge Milton uses the emerging state tools of nationalism to change parliament's opinion to the side of the public. He starts his theory by analyzing the human condition through a biblical lens when he writes that those “who imagine to remove sin by removing the matter of sin” are hopeless. Even if one were to “banish all objects of lust, shut up all youth into the severest discipline that can be exercised in any hermitage, ye cannot make them chaste that come thither...” (Longman p1719), Milton argued that sin is a constant temptation for humankind and always present, removing it would be like trying to remove every grain of sand from the ocean. Furthermore to do so would go against the design of temptation & choice in nature (or god's design). To those that would feel reading itself goes against the human condition or that knowledge is “evil” Milton argues that “though some part of it (sin) may for a time be withdrawn from some persons, it cannot from all, in such a universal thing as books are; and when this is done, yet the sin remain entire“ (Longman p1719). To put it in other words if a form of press has sinful information on its pages its still up to interpretation by the individual and that interpretation would be impossible without both good and evil existing. This gives agency back to the public and away from groups like the Master of Revels by putting control of source material in the hands of everyone.

Parliament would cite one reason of censorship is to prevent dangerous ideas and schisms from developing. Milton argues that if “the men be erroneous who appear to be leading the schismatics” the way to correct this is by debating with “distrust in the right cause”, if “not for their sakes, yet for our own” (Longman p1723)? Milton further defends his theory by describing public debate as a positive thing for the country: “opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making” & argues that major characters in biblical history were educated like Moses and David. Even more spectacular is how Milton defends the value of flawed opinions when he writes that “the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil” Even wrong opinions are important for Milton when he writes that good & evil, in its “many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned”, are necessary because “that is to say of knowing good by evil” (Longman p1717), There is no way to have good without evil & god has given every person the ability to reason since Adam. 

Milton brings agency back to the people by carefully placing power in their hands. Instead of asking the commoner to conform to the laws of parliament, Milton argues that the English should “be more considerate builders, more wise in spiritual architecture, when great reformation is expected.” (Longman, p1724) This line turns every reader into an active creator of their national identity.
Milton uses a more recognizable form of nationalism when he personifies the nation: “Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation, rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks” (Longman 1724). While in modern times this reads like zealous patriotism or that Milton is making a compliment, it's also a prophecy of the outcome to his theory and further proof that that no one should “suppress all this flowery crop of knowledge” from “springing daily” (Longman 1724). Milton has carefully maneuvered himself, by analyzing the morality of free opinion through a biblical lens, into position where he feels he can attack censorship directly with public support. Milton goes even further with relating to his religious audience when he makes opinion holy. In a clever fashion Milton writes that “For who knows not that truth is strong, next to the almighty.” (Longman 1725) Milton uses language that suggest truth being godly is common sense, re-defining a part of English silent presuppositions in medias res. 

Areopagitica is a radical text at a time when text itself is a radical possession but still manages to promote some form of censorship. At one hand Milton argues that books are useful and that licensing is “a dishonor and derogation to the author, to the book, to the privilege of dignity or Learning” and that if “we think to regulate printing” then “we must regulate all recreations and pastimes...” (Longman 1719). The author attacks licensing laws directly when he argues that regulations claims its role is to prevent the “infection” of bad ideas but that this is inefficient because to licensing can never stop social corruption. Milton goes further when he points that censorship could slow down divine plans which would cause more corruption.

On the other hand Milton shows he would censor, even pull from the root, certain text: “I mean not tolerated popery and open superstition, which, as it extirpates all religions and civil supremacies, so itself should be extirpate, provided first that all charitable and compassionate means be used to win the weak and misled...” (Longman 1726). Milton still has elements of control in his definition of English silent presuppositions; while it is just, good and holy not to censor any author or idea it is equally unjust, evil and pagan to “interrupt the unity of spirit”. Essentially Milton is setting up a fail safe against heretical ideas based on his writing in Areopagitica. If anyone disagrees with his theory Milton can easily point them out as an interrupter of unity & have their work destroyed, an active form of censorship and seemingly unnecessary when Milton himself argues the usefulness of bad ideas and sinful books. It's also a direct contradiction considering Milton's opinion that “he who destroys a good book kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye” (HumanitiesWeb). 
Miltons greatest success in his theory on censorship is found in the prose itself. The writer masterfully appeals to every sensibility of every major demographic with sentiment triumphing over sentimentality while carefully selecting which aspects of government to critique & only after blows have been softened. Milton will typically begin with a brief defense of an idea and then finish with a furious volley of opinion. Consider that the beginning of Areopagitica is a defense of Areopagitica itself, with Milton calling up the ancestral images of Spenser before stating “the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constitution of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth (Longman 1717).” Milton easily defines knowledge as a positive human virtue by playing on the idea of silent presupposition; the author defines knowledge as good because it is, one should just know it. According to Milton, every human should have an instinctual response that public knowledge is a virtue because knowledge can help identify good and evil. Milton compares this identification to the story of Adam and the apple when he writes that Adam was “knowing of good by evil” (Longman 1717), as being a necessity. In two paragraphs, under the filter of academic and papal nostalgia, Milton has laid a logical foundation for the justification of his illegal printing to both the scientist and the priest. 
Nationalism is still the same idea since its not-so-long-ago inception; turning the abstract idea of a nation into a real power. Writers of today should still be looking to Milton's Areopagitica, which shows the successful passive/aggressive style that Milton camouflages in his writing with nostalgia, history and invoking virtues onto ideas through presupposition. Eventually these presuppositions become silent in the reverse; instead of citizens of the 17th century instinctively assuming that knowledge is evil because the state told them so for many generations, they instinctively & accurately assume censorship removes agency because of the work of people like John Milton staying relevant through generations.

Works Cited

Zizek, Slavoj. "We Need Thinking." Lavan. N.p.. Web. 10 May 2013. <>.

"Areopagitica by John Milton." HumanitiesWeb. N.p.. Web. 10 May 2013. <>.

The Longman Anthology

Monday, April 1, 2013

Biomimicry: From Termites to Towers

Almost everyone on the planet has had their life improved by biomimicry, “the design of production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes.” (Oxford Dictionary). Another way of describing biomimicry would be technology by man inspired by nature. There's good reason to look toward biomimicry; billions of years of evolution have lead to many examples of complex diversity in nature. Many sustainable technologies & products have been created because of people examining nature's existing efficiency, with a broad range that includes passive cooling technology inspired by termites, whale powered wind turbines, gecko infused tape and, most easily recognizable due to it's many uses and longevity, Velcro.

Velcro was designed in 1941 & patented in 1955 by Swiss electrical engineer & hunting enthusiast George de Mestal (Hall of fame inventor Profile). De Mestral's imagination was sparked by returning home from a hunting trip one day & examining the recently plucked burrs that stuck to his jacket & his dogs fur (Gregory). Burrs, which are generally attached to a seed or dry fruit, have hooks as both a means to protect the plant from herbivores & also as a means of seed dispersal. De Mestral took some of the burs and examined them under a microscope. What he saw was hook-like seeds meshed with hooped fibers gripping and fastening to each other. De Mestral considered that the adhesive qualities of plants with burrs could be useful when applied to everyday life, an example of biomimicry in action.

It's somewhat ironic that de Mestral was inspired by a part of a plant in nature that was, until that point, only an annoyance for humans. It turns out the inventor was also as tenacious as the burrs themselves; his idea did not win over investors after it's inception. Another ironic spot in the life of de Mestral considering he received his first patent at the age of 12 only to be “severely” & “openly laughed at” (Thomas) when he initially pitches his greatest idea yet. 
After three years of work de Mestral finally had his initial design completed: two lineal cotton fabric strips, or round squares, sewn or adhered to opposite sides. The first fabric strip had 300 hooks per square inch and the second fabric strip had 300 loops per square inch (Thomas). The initial design worked by not as effectively due to being made of cotton. 
Cotton is a fluffy fiber that grows around seeds of a shrub plant from a genus called Gossypium. The fiber is around 90% cellulose which is a polysaccharide (long string of carbohydrate molecules joined together) comprised mostly of glucose. Cotton is spun into a yarn and is then turned into a flatter material. After this refinement the cotton is still fluffy and proved to be a poor material to create what would become Velcro. Eventually de Mestral discovered that he could create the texture needed by sewing nylon under an ultra violet light, causing the material to be both burned & sewn into the shape (Strauss). After a couple years of production de Mestral was producing over sixty million yards of Velcro per year. Today it's an everyday item capable of supporting 175 pounds per two square inches (Freeman) & is used in items ranging from pen holders to automobiles. 
Aristotle has one of the earliest recorded comments about biomimicry, commenting on how the Gecko can “run up and down a tree in any way.” (Aristotle) One wonders what the philosopher would think of modern times: recently a product has become available that harnesses the gripping power of a Gecko's setae (small hair-life structures on the foot of a Gecko) called Gecko Tape. Gecko Tape is made with synthetic setea that emulates a Gecko's setae. It was developed between a collaboration of the Manchester Center for Mesoscience and Nanotechnology and the Institute for Microelectronics Technology in Russia in 2001 after two year’s of research (Nature). The research yielded a product that is powerful but still not as strong as the feet of a Gecko. It turns out that little reptilian feet are complex.

A gecko's foot has toe pads consisting of about a half million setae made of keratine (a fibrous structural protein) and each one of these has fine hairs with hundreds of small projections called “spatulae” on a nanoscale at their ends (Nature). Robert Full from the University of California was the first to discover that the adhesion from Gecko feet was due to Van der Waals forces created between the spatulae and the surface. Van der Waals forces are “intermolecular forces created by induced polarization of molecules” which “become significant on the micro and nanoscale.” (Nature) But the mighty foot of the Gecko continues to hold mysteries: Andre Grim, credited with being the father of synthesized setae, found that capillary forces also aided with the Gecko's adhesive ability. Capillary forces are “attractive forces created by the surface tension of a molecular layer of absorbed water that forms between two surfaces” (Nature). This lead to the development of nanotubes of synthetic Gecko foot hair, which when applied to the old synthetic satae formula creates a formula that could be potentially stronger than the properties of a regular Gecko foot. At the moment each hair has “the same adhesive force as a single gecko setae.” (Shah).

Design cues from mother nature don't just manifest as accidental inspiration for alternatives to zippers or a better sticking roll of tape. Biomimicry has also been used by architects to create more efficient sources of energy.

WhalePower produces giant blades for wind turbines as an alternate form of energy. Already commercially available, WhalePower has an advantage over other wind turbine designs; it's modeled after the “fluid dynamics and biomechanics” (The Science | Whalepower) of a humpback whale flippers. 
Nature has given the humpback whale a very efficient flipper. They provide lift and reduce drag, channeling flow and increasing aerodynamic efficiency due to tubercles (a round node in the bone or skin). When tubercles are in human lungs we call this tuberculosis, however when they are on the edge of humpback whale flippers they are called innovative. By replicating the texture of the tubercles on humpback whale flippers designers for WhalePower were able to craft a more efficient wind turbine. Wind tunnel tests have shown that models of blades designed with humpback whale tubercles, instead of smooth surface blades, offer full dynamic improvements including a “32% reduction in drag, 8% improvement in lift, and a 40% increase in angle of attack of smooth flippers before stalling.” (Fish) WhalePower is extending this technology to hydroelectric turbines, irrigation pumps & ventilation fans.

In Harare, Zimbabwe, architects have looked toward termites as a way to discover new building techniques. Termite mounds in Africa can rise to heights of over thirty feet. To compare to a man made structure that would be equal to a human erecting a building 2,743 feet high (Steinu). These mounds have complex systems such as ventilation tubes and tunnels that continue up to 200 feet underground. When comparing this to human structures the termite structures are much larger. The architects on the Eastgate Centre building in Harare know this, that's why they are developing their high-rise buildings with a design modeled after termite ventilation systems to maintain a consistent temperature in their structures. These buildings, designed under biomimicry principles, use no conventional air-conditioning or heating yet stays regulated “year round with dramatically less energy consumption using designed methods inspired by indigenous Zimbabwean masonry and the self-cooling mounds of African Termites” (Fahrenbacher). 
Termites in Zimbabwe feed on a specific type of fungus that must be regulated at exactly 87 degrees Fahrenheit. This is quite the job for the small termites as temperatures outside range from 35 degrees to 104 degrees (Fahrenbacher). The termites regulate the mound by opening and closing a series of heating and cooling vents. By digging new vents and plugging old ones the termites are able to keep the fungus at its appropriate temperature & enjoy a constant source of food.

The ventilation system designed by termites is essential to the Eastgate Centre high-rise tower design. Outside air is warmed or cooled by the building mass itself which is determined by checking the temperature of the concrete and the air. Air is continually drawing in by large open spaces and fans on the first floor. Fresh air replaces stale air and exits through ports in the ceiling of each floor. By doing this structures end up using 10% less energy of conventional buildings of its size, which has trickled directly to residents; rent is up to 20% lower than the surrounding buildings of Eastgate Centre. 
Humans have a tendency to take things in nature and give it a human element. Many times this makes something more accessible for the better of humanity. For example, taking many randomly shaped stones and refining it into a protective structure in a shape of a square. Biomimicry is placed in a reversed but also welcoming context: it's technology for us all, inspired by nature, to make objects with a human element more efficient for humans. Biomimicry will continue to improve the work of architects, scientists, designers, artists and the rest of the world.


Works Cited

"Oxford Dictionary ." Biomimicry Definition. Oxford University Press. Web. 1 Apr 2013. <>.

"Hall of fame Inventor Profile." Invent Now. National Inventors Hall of Fame, n.d. Web. 1 Apr 2013. <>.

Gregory, Josh. From Thistle Burrs to... Velcro(21st Century Skills Innovation Library: Innovations from Nature). North Mankato: Cherry Lake Publishing, 2012. Print.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Asus U47A Review & Reformat Troubleshoot

So I just reformatted my Asus U47A & it was surprisingly harder than I originally expected. Fueled by both irritation & a hint of semi-malevolence, here is a  tutorial on how I bypassed the "unable to format GPT partition drive" error as well as an overall review. Keep in mind, at least for the review, that I'm already a few-beers-in.

For the sake of easy reading & to establish context here is a quick rundown of problems & solutions I had with the U47A:

  • PROBLEM:     Glitchy touch pad.
  • SOLUTION:    Use software on/of - Plug in external mouse/reciever
  • PROBLEM:      Slow performance/boot - Bloatware
  • SOLUTION:     Reformat ASAP. This model comes like this out of the box.
  • PROBLEM:      Cannot reformat drive due to "drive is GPT partition" error.
  • SOLUTION:     During window's instalation press SHIFT + F10 & run DISKPART

I got my Asus for $600 and considered it a huge bargain when i had finally reformatted it and set up the drivers. Keep a few things in mind:

  •  This laptop comes with 109 processes out of the box.
  • After reformatting, before drivers, I had 39 active processes.
  • After installing everything I could need, 47.

Here's the specs from the manufacturer:

  • Windows 7 Ultimate or other editions available
  • Compact and light: under 1” thick and less than 2Kg
  • Genuine Windows® 7 Ultimate
    Genuine Windows® 7 Professional
  • World’s most compact 14” notebook!
  • Highly durable materials and build quality for portable use
  • New 3rd generation Intel® Core™ i3/i5/i7 processor and Integrated Intel® HD Graphics 4000
  • Up to 8 hours of battery life

First off, regarding battery life... it seems greater than eight. Maybe it's my settings after reformat, but after a seven hour day at class I still had four hours and fifty minutes of battery life remaining.

Regarding speed, it's quite fast but is still a *dual core* so keep this in mind. My boot up is quick, about two minutes, (after reformat; before it took up to 8 minutes due to bloatware!) but the computer is slow to load Photoshop, initial boot applications, and many other situations if one is used to a high powered desktop.

That being said, it seems equally as good as a MacBook Pro in the 2k range, just $1400 cheaper. So what could be wrong, besides needing to reformat?

Well, reformatting is a pain if you don't know what to do. That's what inspired me to make this blog post.

When I tried to re install Windows I was greeted to *five partitions*. First I deleted all the partitions but one, because I wanted to reformat it and install the OS. However the installer would not let me continue due to a "gpt partition error". It took me about 4 hours to find out that you can use a command prompt command called "diskpart" to change the permissions of a drive so you can install windows on it. The only problem; how the hell do you load a command prompt during a windows install?

It turns out this is actually quite simple; just pres SHIFT+F10 at any point and the command prompt will pop up. Here's the rest to convert the drive that I copied from some board, I think Tom's Hardware:

Using a command line
  1. Back up or move all data on the basic master boot record (MBR) disk you want to convert into a GUID partition table (GPT) disk. If the disk does not contain any partitions or volumes, skip to step 2.

    For more information about backing up volumes, see Related Topics.
  1. Open Command Prompt.
  1. Type:


    If the disk does not contain any partitions or volumes, skip to step 7.
  1. At the DISKPART prompt, type:

    list volume

    Make note of the number of the volume that you want to delete.
  1. At the DISKPART prompt, type:

    select volume n
  1. At the DISKPART prompt, type:

    delete volume
  1. At the DISKPART prompt, type:

    list disk

    Make note of the disk number of the disk that you want to convert to a GUID partition table (GPT) disk.
  1. At the DISKPART prompt, type:

    select disk n
  1. At the DISKPART prompt, type:

    convert gpt

After this windows installed fine. I installed the necessary drivers and everything works fine, from USB 3.0 (quite high speeds on this laptop actually) to the webcam.

There is a problem however, a huge one. It's not enough to make me have buyers remorse over my purchase but it's enough where I feel I should mention it.

The touch pad is shit.

People have written on many forums, had their touch pads replaced numerous times (allegedly) and nothing changes. Asus is using a strange keyboard/touchpad hybrid setup and lots of software that east up ram that overall creates a wonky touchpad. Whenever I use the laptop with the touchpad activated the cursor will warp randomly as I am typing. The only way to solve this is to use the (hilariously aware) function-f9-disable-touchpad-key but alas, mine DOES NOT WORK. Instead I must hookup an external mouse and deactivate my touchpad. Its a minor annoyance, especially with wireless mice, but still, it's worth noting.

* EDIT 5/26/13: While cleaning up some old posts I noticed that I was a little harder on the touchpad than I should be. It is still a wonky touchpad, but I found out that part of the problem is the sensitivity of the pad and how one types on the laptop. The touchpad is so sensitive that if your palms are hovering slightly above the touchpad, even outside of the range or on the plastic of the laptop itself and not on the touchpad, it will start to warp and wonk out. It seems to happen less frequently if the gesture's options are turned off. Still, the drivers are terrible & the touchpad is so sensitive I have to hold my hand in a different typing position that can become awkward without practice and patience. But the laptop is more functional now & I can always stick a wireless mouse receiver into the USB slot to make the typing work fine (little strange but it's not a large device and can be stored on the laptop itself in it's own USB slot). *

Nonetheless, I am quite happy with the laptops performance, battery life and size. Reformat that digital molasses though: 109 processes out of the box is crazy and it runs at about a 1/3 the speed.