Saturday, July 26, 2008

An Era of Extra-Ordinary Prosperity

So what to make of the current economic situation? What sense to take of it? Or what sense to take of it from looking at the times through a historical lens, since I imagine most readers will prefer my analysis, at least in part, because of my historical perspective rather than simply my sunny personality (although it is quite sunny).

First, let me recommend you to an excellent article that prompted me to write on this topic (and therefore certainly has some influence over the contents of this post), which has some fine points that I'll probably re-iterate to some extent. The Economist has a nice rundown of the situation in the article called "Working Man's Blues"

Now for my overview:

Well, as a historian who has studied a decent deal, although not a great deal, of material about the Great Depression, I can tell you this isn't the Great Depression. We don't have the majority of the country poor or going toward poverty, we have most of the country middle class, and some perhaps tilting toward lower middle class, with a rather small number in extreme poverty and an uncomfortably high, but not that high, a number in relative poverty. Most importantly we have not had any negative growth, thus technically we are not even in a recession (by the traditional definition, used in, for example Investor Words, a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative real GDP change).

No this is not a recession, and it is not as Paul Krugman claimed a return to the Guilded Age.

(even ignoring his arguments, he gets the periodization wrong, or at least without providing arguments sets up a different periodization than almost all major historians. The Guilded Age was roughly between the end or the faltering of the Reconstruction (around 1877 when federal troops left the South) and probably at most the assassination of McKinley (ie, the beginning of Teddy Roosevelt's term in 1901), it does not last into the 1920's as Krugman claims, and the Progressive Era is usually dated between around 1901 and around 1920, not starting in the late 1920's or early 1930's as Krugman implies.)

This is an economic downturn. We had something of a boom between say 2003-2007, not as much as say in the 1990's, where we had an extraordinary boom (one of the few eras where real median household income grew, although that measure, like most is questionable, especially given the number of poor immigrants that come to the US), and now there's a downturn. The size of this downturn is rather massive, compounded by problems in economies around the world, high oil and food prices, and the economy-distorting measures taken to reduce the last downturn in 2000 (such as Greenspan's massive intrest rate cutting.))

But that's just looking at it from a historical perspective, looking backwards many years, we can see that, you know what, even in a downturn, we are still at a level of wealth rarely seen in the life of mankind. That can be said for the world especially, but in the US we have the majority of the population with a degree of financial security, although they need to work and worry to keep it, which nowadays means the necessities are satisfied, health is alright, + (and this is actually very historically rare) we have machines and tools to make daily life easier + we have machines and tools to keep us entertained. Taking the long view from the past, that's pretty good, average man-wise.

(That's the tricky thing, because we have to remember, historically the middle class was not the average man. The average man used to be what was then called the working class, which would nowadays be considered the working poor (the current working class is more the middle class). I suppose the definition of the middle class for previous eras was financial security, having the necessities, and being able to aspire to more, or maybe it's just a semi-Marxist vision, those who are not dependent on the means of production of someone else, but who do not themselves own the means of production, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps)

Taking the view of the future though... things are a bit odd right now. Despite all the nations of the world being in essentially one global economy, each country seems to exist in a different world economically, in a way that has little to do with the economic realities of the country. But these oddities always have a bit of sense, and are generally rooted in a very specific past.

For example, why is the US so prosperous now relative to the world? Explaining fully its situation in the 19th century relative to Latin America might be a bit tough, but to a great deal it helped that the ethnic groups which did the discriminating, though the mix shifted, tended to always been a vast majority in the US, which has not been the case in much of Latin American history (the situation of the South as economically backward during this period partially backs this theory). But let's not go back that far, let's just look at the beginning of the 20th century it was on the higher end of the income scales, but similar to Britain, France, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Argentina and perhaps a few other exceptional Latin American economies. However, it was not devastated by WWII, nor did it suffer from radical economic deviations, and moreover it didn't have to deal with imperialism, or major revolutions. That alone would give the US quite an edge over the rest of the world, whether it explains everything is question, but it explains a lot of the particular oddity of the massive US share of the global GDP.

Similar stories of exceptional luck history wise can be found scattered around the world. Yes, this luck was built on hard work, the US' low-revolution count was built on a strong belief in democracy in the political class and especially among some of the better of our leaders. But we got lucky with WWII, had Latin America gotten involved, as some Latin American countries wanted to, we might have been as devastated as Europe.

Yet historical luck is not a way to build a lasting prosperity. And despite whatever good qualities of the American people might have, we are not so exceptional as to have the economic fundamentals to maintain our privileged position in the world, and thus relative to the world we are sinking. I had hoped that it might be the case that the world might be catching up fast enough that in absolute terms we would still maintain our lifestyle for the immediate future, but that may be a bit uncertain. I suppose that's not surprising, after all, when the working class caught up to and merged with the middle class, the middle class did lose a lot of their old perks, such as even the lower middle class having servants.

But let me not be too gloomy. We might be destined to sink somewhat relative to the rest of the world until we reach a point reflecting our size, resources, skills and attributes, but that place is still pretty high in the world. Moreover, even if things might even be sinking in absolute terms, the future still holds the potential to raise us up with the rest of the world, even if perhaps at a slower speed. And then once a bit of the adjusting is done for the past, perhaps then we can grow naturally, with our long-term growth being reflective of the long-term economic trends of our nation. Until then...
But as I said things aren't so bad now, and while the future might have some roughness, it is unlikely to hold a new Great Depression any time soon (although I'd advise against any predictions going to infinity). The true reality that we are going to face though, is that economic moments, like all moments, pass, and the situations change, and control of the course of events will always allude us.

But that just means that history will always be surprising.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

These things I do believe

By circumstance of thought, if nothing else, I find myself thinking and developing manifestos and expositions of what I believe in, partially or fully, to a degree or at the core of my being, incidentally or crucially, and I think as part of the Rand Show, me, being Rand the great and glorious, my beliefs would fit well to posting.

However, as I wrestled with which belief to start with, the answer became clear.

Have I not always insisted of the centrality of my faith to me? And what does a Catholic believe?

And thus I have reproduced below the Nicene Creed. It is also attached to the side, but I thought I might draw a little attention to it, because as I said, this is something quite dear to me, quite more so than life itself:

The Nicene Creed

We believe in God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered, died, and was buried.

On the third day he rose again
in fulfilment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son
he is worshiped and glorified.

He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.


Posting, posting, posting, gotta keep on posting

Man week without a post, not good man, not good!

Especially since I do have a number of thoughts percolating in the coffee pot that is my brain (hey, I do drink a lot of caffeine).

However, I was on vacation, and I do have a supremely low readership to lose (hey, gotta look on the bright side), so I'm not going to beat myself up too bad over it (you on the other hand... (punch hand into other hand)).

Ah I would like some readership, and as a long term thing, I should at some point start utilizing search engine optimization techniques, aggressive participation in the blogging community, and other such methods for readership boosting. But those plans are all in the future.

In the short term, my plan is simply to get more regular and better quality. That in itself is quite the task.

Yet, as has been pointed out to me by many, why not just discard it all?

Because there is that glimmer of hope that this blog might turn into something, a glimmer certainly, but a glimmer nonetheless.

More importantly, though, because writing this blog keeps me working, keeps me writing, keeps me thinking, and if anything is helping to keep my brain from falling into the nothingness of utter sloth or the chasm of numbing non-creativity, well, maybe its worth keeping on...

The last part of the justification was rather lazy, but I think, on occasion I produce some nice pieces of prose for this old webpost, and since that's coming out, putting a little effort in don't seem like too much a burden.

Anywho, take it to your head, take it to your heart and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

History keeps on moving... Into the future

Sorry about the posting irregularity, or well, not that sorry. I have had a good reason for being sporadic, since I'm searching for a job. Now a history major isn't a bad thing job-wise. It's a standard liberal arts major with a decent reputation for difficulty (on the other hand, English, unjustly so, has a reputation for being easy (although it is a plus when applying for writing related jobs), now Sociology, again, in my book, unjustly so, has a reputation for being more difficult than history). So the standard liberal arts jobs are open to me: Sales, Marketing, Teaching, Insurance, etc. + Grad School (of various sorts, not just History grad studies, but also Law School, Accounting, School of Ed., etc.). However, unfortunately, none of those appeals to me at the moment (although I'm starting to consider grad school, but not for the immediately, more for the some day).

What I'm looking for in particular is a job that combines my creativity and analytical sides (hopefully, but not necessarily, in a way that also takes advantage of my historical side), as well as utilizing my technical side. Now there are jobs out there like that, and indeed, I very much believe, there are many of those jobs that are well suited for someone like me. But the employers don't necessarily realize that! I mean, once I sell myself to a recruiter, I generally get a good feeling from them (even if that doesn't necessarily translate to a job), but when recruiters just glance at my resume, they're usually thinking to themselves "History major... hmmm... can't have any technical skills). Well, I think this blog testifies otherwise (my other blog more math and CS-centric, makes an even stronger case).

But among all these complaints, you might be asking yourself, why didn't he get a technical-oriented major. (that sentence actually does not need a question mark since it is a statement of a situation involving a question, rather that a question itself, Mr. I-Think-I-Know-Grammar Pants)

Well, I could have. Had I spent an extra year or so at Rutgers (Rutgers rules! Wooo!), I could very well have gotten a double major in History and Computer Science. However, honestly, job-wise a year of experience might be better than the promotion of a CS minor to a CS major, and I was eager to exit college, at least for a while. But more importantly, to be truthful, while technical subjects do appeal to me (and maybe after some time in the work-world I might go for a technical grad degree), they don't sing to me the same way History does.

Ah, History, the great study of all that ever was, which is the cornerstone of all that ever will be.

And yet... I do like CS and Math and other such stuff. And to continue to be truthful, I am a bit of a dabbler when it comes to History; I have yet to find a specialty, and my record shows classes whose subject matters range across the world.

In the end, at least at this moment, I remain as I have for as long as I can remember, a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.

Which isn't a bad thing necessarily, this precarious position allows me to indulge in any interest that comes my way, to soak up knowledge in any field which I happen upon, and to switch subjects with ease and pleasure. But of practical importance, being a jack-of-all-trades gives me a somewhat rare perspective on things and makes synthesizing subjects, as well as explaining one subject to another, as natural as breathing in and out the air.

Yet employability-wise, the jack-of-all-trades is not a clear classification, and is often hard for recruiters to wrap their brains around, and yet...

I have good skills, a decent brain, some inspired moments, and a friendly disposition, so I imagine the job hunt will eventually end well for me. However, the hunting is likely to be long and tiresome as well, but such is the way of the world, and so I press on, armed with the knowledge of the past, into the future.

Or do it the sensible way: Top 5 tips

Since the last post was all about the potential madness of computer cleaning, I thought I might give some saner tips, indeed, here are the top 5 (as ranked by Robo-Bobo) more safe tips for cleaning your computer, chosen for the cleaner who wants a lighter touch:


(And don't just download the one that comes in a pop-up ad, those usually have spyware attached to them, there a couple legitimate free ones (most famously Spybot Search and Destroy), although they tend to be less effective than the more expensive ones (although they are free), but whenever you download free software GO TO THE COMPANY OR FOUNDATION'S HOMEPAGE. Many times malware will be bundled with free-ware, but well-respected foundations and companies tend to avoid that (with some exceptions like some music companies (cough, cough, Sony BMG), it's best also to search the web for info about anything you download before you put it on your computer.)

I personally use Webroot's Spyware Sweeper


(Same warnings as with the spyware scanner, although the truth is virus scanners often have limited effectiveness once the virus is on your computer (especially since the scanner is usually the first target of the virus). However, the best virus scanners also give you warnings about when you're about to download, open, install or transfer virus-infected items (one of the reasons I like my current sweeper).)

I personally use Eset's Nod32


The scanners sometimes have some automatic warnings even without being used, but not scanning is just a waste of good software! And also your computer will get infected, oh yeah, that too. Doesn't matter if you think your safe or you think you have good computer practices, spyware (and to a lesser extent viruses), happen (in fact, if your spyware sweeper is turning up nothing constantly, that probably means that the sweeper is infected).

4. Clear privacy info off your browsers.

Companies, even ones that pledge to do no evil (I have mixed feelings about Google, especially now that a friend works there (shout-out to Jean Hsu!) and especially since I use a lot of google tech which alternately impresses and frustrates me, but that's another session), will attempt to track your web-habits. This is a fact of life. Moreover, sometimes companies (a more rare happening, but sometimes, especially with some of the more unscrupulous background checkers for employment) will go a little further and try to actually connect your real-world identity to what you do on the web and what you have on your computer. It sucks, but that's how the internet is. So go to Tools or Options or whatever, and clear your privacy data, including (actually, although by default this usually isn't selected, it is the most vulnerable area) cookies.

5. Clear out your "temp" and "temporary internet files" folders.

Most of this ought to have been cleaned out by clearing privacy data, but it usually isn't. Finding these folders is a bit tricky for newbies (I've been assuming Windows throughout, especially since most spyware and viruses are designed for Windows, but this particular matter is Windows-specific. I'm a newbie at Linux, and while I'm capable in Mac OS (and actually have a certain preference for it), it has been a while since I've cracked into the nitty-gritty of how to clean Macs (beyond the previous steps)).

Essentially this is what you must do:

First, you need to enable viewing hidden folders:
1. Open "My Computer" from the "Start" menu
2. Go to "Tools" (in the top menu bar)
3. Click on "Folder Options"
4. Click on "View"
5. Find the "Hidden Folders" folder in the scroll bar, click on it to open it, if it isn't opened already.
6. Click on "Show hidden files and folders"
7. Click "Apply" in the bottom right corner
8. Close the the "Folder Options" menu, now you should be able to see all your folders and files

Second, you need to go to the user profiles:
1. Open the "Local Disk (C:)" folder (I'm assuming your still in the "My Computer" window, if not, get back to it)
2. Open "Documents and Settings"

Third, for each of the profile folders, you need to do the temp file cleaning, but here's the essential pattern:
1. Open the profile folder (ie, the folder with the name of one of the profiles on your computer)
2. Open "Local Settings" (you may notice that this folder is semi-faded, that's because usually it's hidden)
3. Open "Temp"
4. Delete all the files in that folder (though do not delete the folder itself, it is a natural part of your computer, however if you mess up and do delete it, the folder should regenerate naturally)

(note sometimes you might not be able to delete some of these temp files, usually it will say file is being used. You should then try closing some applications and trying again, or trying again on a different day, but sometimes there will be files you just can't delete. Sometimes that is just a harmless fact of how your applications work, but often it signals that there are processes that you didn't start in the background which might be problematic)

5. Go back to "Local Settings"
6. Open "Temporary Internet Files"
7. Delete everything in that folder (same warnings as with the "Temp" folder
8. Repeat for each of the profiles

Now deleting these temp files can sometimes free up a huge amount of disk space, but even if it doesn't it makes your computer more secure. However, the files will naturally regenerate with time, so continue to get rid of them.

6. Don't accumulate junk it the first place

I know this was supposed to be top 5 cleaning tips, but here's a bonus tip, practice safe internet! Avoid downloads from sites you don't know or which have suspicious reputations (cough, cough Don't accumulate excess software (and if you do, remove some via your control panel's Add/Remove Programs). Do not open emails from people you don't know (even if it says charity this, or job offer that). Do not click on links to sites you don't know or if you're in a suspicious site to start with.

(actually avoid suspicious sites in general, that means you free porn sites (if you must have porn, go to a legitimate porn company with a respectable (relatively) reputation (and no I'm not going to list any of those companies)

(the less reputable ones also have the ugly habit of taking over your browser, if this happens, go to the task manager (Ctrl-Alt-Del) and click on the process that matches your browser (say firefox.exe) and end it (actually this might not in Internet Explorer (I don't usually use it so I haven't tried), since IE is hard-wired into the Windows Operating System (in a rather monopolistic move, which if not illegal, is at least supremely a douche-move)))

(this is where I feel Apple's Safari Browser, despite its easy-of-use and speed, falls short of the Firefox Browser, since Firefox allows you to see where a link leads by just leaving the mouse over the link, whereas Safari (at least, last time I checked it out, which to be truthful was sometime ago, so updates may have changed things), does not. Internet Explorer also has this feature, but IE is so bug-ridden, so security-problematic, so violating-of-all-sensible-web-standards (although IE is getting better in this respect), that I don't even consider it as an alternative in web browser choices. However, Opera Browser is always a reliable second in my book to Firefox, although it is a bit feature-heavy with some unfamiliar-quirks for my taste, but it is a nice browser indeed.)

Anywho, the basic law of preventing junk from cluttering up and undermining the security of your computer is... be cautious and use common sense. There are a lot of tricky and hidden ways to attack a computer, but most malware goes through the front door, so shut it. Or in less-metaphorical terms, if there's some action which seems like it would make your computer vulnerable, DON'T DO IT!

And if you do do it anyways, well, don't blame a certain robotic koala for not warning you.

Cleaning out with Robo-Bobo

Now a little advice from Robo-Bobo: cleaning and maintaining your computer is the route of all madness. So easily can you delete some essential file. So easily can you completely and utterly ruin your perfectly good machine. That said, I periodically like to clean out my machine of all suspicious files and processes to kill any potential viruses and spyware. Why? Because I can.

But I'll admit I do so with care. The biggest guideline for cleaning with care is whenever you have a file or process (if you don't know what I'm talking about what I say process, press Ctrl - Alt - Del to get your task manager up and running and click on the processes tab. Basically this will show you all the stuff, the good, the bad, the necessary, that is running on your computer) you don't recognize DO NOT IMMEDIATELY DELETE IT!!! Just because you don't recognize it doesn't mean it's not supposed to be there, especially since many software vendors, including old Billy Gates's Microsoft, set up new processes and files in new versions.

So how to handle the cleaning then?

Search the web.

The beauty of the internet is that it can harness all the previous frustrations of computer users around the world. You search the web with just the name of the file and process and you should be able to get someone, somewhere, who was also wondering what that item was, and who probably posted that question on an internet forum or asked an expert or something like that, and then got an answer. (although there are some processes and items that still end up being mysterious)

But sometimes it's nice to avoid slogging through tons of forum results, and luckily there are a number of organized process and file identification databases, which usually have readable and search-friendly reports. My favorite is The Process Library, which gets high marks for presentation and understandability, however I'll admit it's not the most extensive of the databases out there. I've found Neuber Software has perhaps a broader selection of information, however, you're best off going directly to its Window Processes Index, since navigating between its product-centric main-pages is a bit unwieldy.

But sometimes you're going to have to search.

And sometimes you're going to have to call Dell, or HP, or some other company that you notice comes up a lot in the unanswered questions about a process or item and demand they explain what this process does (and be forewarned they will resist telling you and likely will try to get you to purchase their expensive customer-care packages).

But as I said before, cleaning a computer is the way of all madness, doing it with care does not change that fact.

Yet, fear of viruses, malware, spyware, and other unpleasantries, combined with an almost compulsive cheapness, compels some, like a certain robotic koala bear you know, to press onward nonetheless. And to those brave and foolhardy individuals, I have but two words:

Good Hunting.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Still on the Vacationing

So I established a lot of plans for this blog earlier in the month. And I have followed through with only a little of them. Oh well. I'm still on vacation is still the thing, and between relaxing and taking advantage of San Francisco, I find I only have so much time to concentrate on projects like this without being stressed out, and I do not plan on being stressed out while in vacation mode. So I'm sorry, but posting will be sporadic for the next week or so, and then once I switch into got-to-find-a-job-mode, well posting may or may not be sporadic then, but once I find a job... well, hopefully things should settle down... hopefully...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Fox and the Moon

The Fox cries at the moon:

“I want to believe!”

And dead midnight meets his cry,

but I hear it,

and I listen for any answer,

because I too want to believe.

But silence prevails.

Are you there in the silence?

Are you there in the calm after the earthquake and the gale?

Why can’t I see you?

Why can’t I feel you?

Is it simply because my screams shatter the silence

in which you dwell?

But that is wrong,

and I am wrong,

and you are waiting.

Waiting for me.

And I want to believe!

I want that faith the size of a mustard seed

even that I don’t have!

I cannot throw the mulberry tree into the sea

that is not what I want

but I want to know!

But even more than that,

I want to believe!

And when my frenzy is done,

Exhausted I am silent.

Are you there in that silence?

I strive to believe.

by Rand

Friday, July 11, 2008

A little news, well of me

Now my normal plans for Fridays are news run-downs, but since my Wednesday review was news-oriented and because I'm feeling a bit lazy-ish, I thought instead I'd go into a rundown of news about events near to me, which I do favor or plan to attend or wish I could attend, if more weightier matters did not compel me not-wise.

So here's some events:

July 11th - Heading to Cobb's Comedy Club to check out the comedian extraordinary (or at least possessing of weird humors showcased in VH1's Best Week Ever (Perhaps the only VH1 regular show I watch nowadays, although its humor itself is rather hit or miss)) whose name is Christian Finnegan. Cobb's is a nice comedy club (last time I was in San Fran I checked out Joe Roagan there, though his show was also a bit hit and miss), but anyways the main reason I'm going there is that my bro's got free tickets, otherwise I might have to reconsider, but I do like free stuff.

And a great place to find such free stuff in San Francisco is the nice little site Fun, Cheap, And it was upon this site I found my target for my Saturday events.

July 12th -

1 pm - The Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra (not that I've heard of it before, but there's a nice jazz scene in San Fran, and while I am a rocker at heart, I respect jazz a lot, especially when live (hence I checked out the Fillmore Jazz Fest last weekend, wooo!!!)is playing free in a park. In particular the park is the Yerba Buena Gardens and the whole free concert thing is part of the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival which between May and October is giving lots of free events, which as a cheapskate I'm trying to take advantage of as much as I can.

3 pm - After that I might check out a free concert with an Iron Maiden tribute band, the laid back style of San Fran has been building in me a thirst for some damn hard metal rocking. But then again I might just do the old biking/hiking or something like that and such.

7 pm - More evening-wise though I might check up on some Bluegrass at the Kinda Sorta Bluegrass Hootenanny, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Mainly it depends to the degree of which I'm hanging with my bro or sis.

July 13th - However on Sunday, I've got church (with the good folks at St. Patrick's in San Francisco, and then I might mosey on to FREE RAI MUSIC!!! in the good old Stern Grove.

That's a rundown of the cool events of this weekend, but that is not my limit. I shall keep on doing more and more and more, till the world explodes!!! Or until I'm tired, or a mixture of the two. I think you know what I mean...

Or not.

But anywho, take it to your head, take it to your heart, and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

July 21st - Heading back to Jersey (currently in San Francisco) - I'll miss San Fran and my brother and all, but I gotta be little-old Jersey-feeling me, well, least till at some point or other when better reasons and circumstances compel me to go elsewhere.

A matter of empire

What is an empire? What is an emperor? In the political and historical lexicon this is thrown around a lot, but does the word 'empire' have any real meaning? Well, no, not really, it just seems to mean nowadays very powerful state, or maybe expanding state, or maybe state with extensive influence.

But let's step back a sec and look at the older meanings. Why? Well, this isn't really a historical definition question, but it's still something fun to think about.

Well, the word 'emperor' comes from the name 'imperator' which just meant commander (although the Roman Emperor took it as his title, emphasizing his military role) and 'empire' probably just comes from 'emperor'. But if we look at emperors in other lands, a common title, used in both the ancient Persian Empire and the Ethiopian Empire in its better days is King of Kings (obviously the local language equivalent like šāhān šāh or Nəgusä Nägäst). And then if we look at the case of say the Holy Roman Emperor, he was more really the case of a king above the princes. Furthermore even the Roman Emperor ruled over semi-autonomous provinces and client kingdoms, (although the extent of his power over much of the territory matches nicely with the title of 'king', the Romans hated the idea of a king, associating it with ancient tyranny and they liked to pretend otherwise).

But in summary, what empire really seems to historically mean is a ruler who ruled over many semi-independent kingdoms and prince-ships. Which actually means that emperors, while traditionally ruling over more extensive territories than kings, were often far less powerful over the full extent of their territories.

Now using this as a political science concept might be useful, but there are so many other examples of historic kingdoms which don't match that concept of empire, so it's kind of iffy to use it for history, but... well...


And I've got the history to prove it!

We're all quadratics too

So let's do it as they do it in the quadratic formula.


x = (-b +/-b2 - 4ac)/(2a)

Now Mathimoto's Complaint aims to cover a wide range of fans of math and today I'd like to reach out to the younger crowd. That precious younger crowd undoubtedly have seen the beauty of the quadric equation. But they and probably some older folks as well have never given an effort at deriving it. Well, I thought I'd give it a shot and show you the awesomeness of figuring out these formulas. Because Math rocks, it really does.

First start out with the generalized form of a basic quadratic equation (ie any equation with 1 variable (let's say x) and some instance of that variable raised to power 2 and possibly some instance of that variable raised to power 1. Okay, so it was harder to describe things rather than write it out, so let's do that)

Let a, b, and c be constants and x be a variable.

A basic general quadratic equation is:

ax2 + bx + c = 0

Now it helps then to know one particular quadratic equation, that is what happens when you have

(x + b)2 = 0

this can be expanded to

x2 + 2bx + b2 = 0

(Don't believe me, just use the distributive property of multiplication, ie,

(x+b)2 = (x + b)(x + b) =

x (x + b) + b (x + b) = x2 + bx + bx + b2 =

x2 + 2bx + b2


Okay, now if you got a quadratic equation of the form

x2 + 2bx + b2 = 0

And you know

(x + b)2 = x2 + 2bx + b2

You can then say

(x + b)2 = 0

and with an equation like that, the only time you have a number that can match the value of x (and still give you 0, ie, the solution of the equation) is

x = -b

Back to the general basic quadratic equation:

ax2 + bx + c = 0

At this point we don't know how to find the solution value of x here, but since we know the solution for

(x + b)2

we can reconfigure our general equation to fit our particular equation. Just follow along.


ax2 + bx + c = 0

then we can play around with this, our goal equation doesn't have a c, so let's just subtract it from both sides.

ax2 + bx = -c

Well, our target equation doesn't have an &lsquot;a&rsquot; so let's get rid of the a by dividing it from both sides.

x2 + bx/a = -c/a

Okay let's remember our target equation (or the essentials of it)

(x + b)2 = x2 + 2bx + b2

now let's make a little pretending. Let's say instead that the b in our target equation is really say some other letter, say d. Then:

(x + d)2 = x2 + 2dx + d2

And if the current state of our manipulation of the general equation is:

x2 + bx/a = -c/a

we can get to our target a little easier if we say that

d = b/2a

alright now let's take it up a notch by throwing in the new d, then we get

x2 + 2dx = -c/a

well now all we need is the d2 and we can just add that to both sides, so:

x2 + 2dx + d2= -c/a + d2

Well, we can use our old target equation:

(x + d)2 = x2 + 2dx + d2

to simplify this:

(x + d)2= -c/a + d2

Now remember, with a situation like this, the name of the game is find the x, and currently our x is trapped in a term that's raised to a power, so let's get rid of that with a little friend called the square root (but remember that with real square roots you have a positive root and a negative root, since the negative goes away from the squaring).

x + d = +/-d2 - c/a

Now, now, now, we can FIND THE X (by subtracting d from each side)

x = -d +/-d2 - c/a

now just one more step to define the x in the a, b, c constants we started out with, just reverse the d insertion with our

d = b/2a

and we can get...

x = -b/2a +/-(b/2a)2 - c/a

so there we go, we've found the x, but it's kind of ugly so let's simplify things a little by doing some expansion and some common denominator and essentially simple algebra which I'm going to skim over a little:

x = (-b +/-b2 - 4ac)/(2a)

And there we go, we've got the quadratic formula! Yaaaah!!!! Behold it and be amazed!!!

x = (-b +/-b2 - 4ac)/(2a)


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A bit of a look: CNN and BBC

It is often said that American news sources are biased and lack depth. The latter I dispute to a degree, there's often a lot more depth of coverage that people simply ignore, and when you go to some of the more respected newspapers (say The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or go to some of our essayish magazines like Atlantic Monthly or The New Yorker, you can find a lot of depth in those sources. But overall I must admit most American news stories, especially on TV are more oriented toward a quick rundown of events along with a debate on popular issues (this is true of even CNN, my perhaps main go-to news source). I actually don't mind that often, since it is really nice to have a wide-ranging skimming of world news, so you can have general idea of what's going on without needing to search and run around. I also believe that even more deeper sources are mainly there to point you into the direction of some news subjects you want to investigate more.

But sometimes a brief summaries of events just leaves you without a full understanding of what the events actually mean, or an understanding of how trustworthy the reports are or the moral standing of the players or the impact of incidents and such (moreover, with a limited number of "breaking" news events or popular issues to debate, things get repetitive fast). Take for example, CNN's coverage of the recent shooting of Uygurs in Xinjiang, which concentrated on the Chinese police reports and attributed the whole thing to an anti-Han holy war as per that report. Thus unlike BBC News, they did not take the rather obvious step of connecting the shooting to the long low-level separatist campaign in Chinese Turkestan, which BBC News on the other hand did so easily. Moreover, while BBC just said the Uygurs were shot dead, CNN said Chinese police killed them in a shootout (which is a questionable way of phrasing things since even the Chinese police say that the Uygurs were armed with knives though they were shot by police, which is justifiable if the case, but not exactly a shootout).

Yet the second usual claim that American news is extra biased is something that I'm going to object to a little more. I'm not saying there aren't biases in American news, or that perfect objectivity is possible (I don't think perfect objectivity is possible and I think that news readers should be aware of that, but I think that reporters should aim toward objectivity), but barring FOX News and personality-centric news shows (like Nancy Grace, Keith Oberman, etc.), I'd say overall American news is a lot less biased than a lot of other countries, especially my old friend CNN. Take again for example BBC, whose coverage of Uygur-shooting was more in depth (hence giving more room and potential for opinion and shaped depiction), had a stronger bias to its article (not that its opinion on the matter was necessarily wrong), and it more pushed an idea of the Chinese gov. being the real bad guy in the picture. CNN's brief coverage was perhaps a little more biased against the Uygur militants, but its lack of depth gave no claim to making an assessment of the whole of the matter, while BBC in its attempt for analysis does.

But if I was to recommend things, well, if it's an update on a news topic I already know about, I'd rather have the more objective, briefer story, but if it's a matter I've heard less about, well the less objective, more-in-depth might be good.

Still, when it comes to news, I always take the point that news sites and shows and papers are just the starting point. The world can't be summarized even in a whole magazine, even if people tried, but the resources are out there, and so I go out investigating and trying to learn and grasp things. After all, I at least have a vote to tilt things around, I can still send letters and complaints, I can still write, and maybe someday I'll be able to have a greater power of things.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Anywho, take it to your head, take it to your heart and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

And God Bless.

Mathimoto's Revamp

As things have suggested Mathimoto is still doing changes of many types. First I have added good old Robo-Bobo as my partner, and now I'm doing some redesign of the layout and such. So prepare yourself, for awesomeness, brought forth through the power of MATH!!!

Check it out now: The History's Your Brother

I've been adding some more features and a new layout. I added some links for my history professors and some history resources, as well as some random stuff and such. Hopefully it's all pumped up in coolness, but there's still extra coolness it can get, because History's just soooo awesome.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Civilized, Smivilized!

Now, in this modern world, modernity has gotten a bad name.

And the precursor to the term modern (like its successor developed is destined to), civilized, has also been criticized, both its existence as a value and its value as a virtue.

The term civilized once justified horrific, horrific acts and so it's easy to say let's throw it away... and yet civilization as a concept does have a value. There is an essential difference

(not necessarily good or bad, but which might actually be, depending on how you want to debate things, but that's a question of philosophy not necessarily history (although there are plenty of history/philosophy hybrids, and while history is never purely objective, we should recognize the difference between an effort toward an objective history and not attempting the objectivity in a history/philosophy /opinion project)

between the Roman Empire as a society or the ancient Germanic peoples as a society, and while it is different from the difference between the ancient Persians and the ancient Scythians as societies, it is related to that difference and related differences.

That's a very vague way of saying things, but my basic point is that between civilizations you can make out categories based on some quality that divides those societies traditionally called civilized and those traditionally called non-civilized.

So let us now re-take up the topic. We must be careful of the mistakes of the past such as Euro-centrism or Sino-centrism, but we can also learn from the past. The greatest problem with previous attempts was the vagueness of the term and its association with the values and virtues of the areas called civilized. Let us then explicitly say what we mean and not claim to represent the past meanings of the word but try for a new definition which while aiming for the same subject does not necessarily mean the same thing as previous usages of "civilized."

After all this you might say, well get to the heart of the matter already.

Okay, fine then, bully.

Now I am valuing civilization as a matter of society, not necessarily of economy or state-structure, although these might be a consequence.

While as I said I am not trying to define the same intuitive concept that was used before, but as I also said, I am dealing with the same essential subject. So let us examine the commonality of those societies that match fit the intuitive concept.

Rome, Persia, Han China, Maurya India, all fit a certain level in the intuitive concept of soceity, and there greatest commonality is you have there people living together in greater density and with more durable traditions of living together as well as a stronger connection with older previous worlds (this is separate from being old unto itself, after all Roman society is no where nearly as old as Persian, but it connected with Greek). Also, essential to this are traditions of cultural production, and material production, moreover even the exceptions in this regard have refined reasons for this or refined compensation methods.

So then let me try to sketch up some categories.

Most basic civilization level - familial tribes - there is a direct family or personal connection between all members of even the largest social units. There is no great tradition of people dealing with other people and so new contacts must be improvised. Basically isolated hunter-gatherers.

Next - formal tribes - there might still be some uncertain kinship connections, but social ties are more based on common traditions than direct relations. Still such traditions are not widespread. While there are large cultural units based on long-standing traditions, they are mostly only between people who have networks of direct or regional contact. There is little conception of the world outside the region or lifestyle. More developed tribal units, some light farmers or rotating farmers. Early Central Asian nomads.

Next - ritualized tribes - cultural traditions reach indefinitely and widely. People know how to deal with each other and outsiders, and there are set rituals of interactions. Later Central Asian nomads.

Next - basic cities - still without deep interconnection, but there are concentrations of population that act as cultural centers of the surrounding area.

Next - developed cities - cities and small societies know how to deal with each other and have rituals of interaction and both peaceful and war-like relations within their cultural zone.

Next - political regions - societies have regular social organizations, regular distribution of assets, know how to deal with outsiders for a long while, usually some degree of literacy or something similar.

Next - high culture - There are rituals of great production and traditions of reasoning about actions and culture. Thinkers and specialized epics

Next - old culture - long tradition of cultural succession and relation. Centralized culture centers

Next - world culture - interconnected fully with their surroundings, dominating any surrounding lesser cultural areas and ritualized interaction with other equal civilizations. Interacting cultural centers.

Next - world-spanning culture - exporting culture and exchanging culture. Massive cities that act naturally as and also interact with cultural centers.

Next - integrating culture - developing not only from their own development but through the development of others. Metropolitan areas around cities.

Next - semi-globalized culture - a single culturally connected region among all people who have had some contact with others in this region, there are still barriers to full exchange, but these barriers can be transmitted. Metropolitan regions connecting many cities. Current world.

Next- fully globalized culture - all knowledge is accessible, all distance can be traveled, barriers between cultures are no greater than internal barriers, easily connected transport between continental metropolitan areas and some relatively easy transport between all metropolitan areas. Post-industrial world.

So there's some preliminary definitions, do they need adjusting? Yes. But still I think the categories are useful. They measure something very real in a society's changes. And when comparing cultures and mapping out historical changes this can be very valuable indeed.

And if you think differently say so, or be a bum. Bummmmmmmmmmmm!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Welcome now to the Robo-Bobo report

As said before, due to Mathimoto's insane busy-ness. I'm adding my two cents to things around here.

And as a robotic-kola bear, it's about time for me to get some talking time. Of course I'll make sure not to overstep on Mathimoto's property, but Robo-Bobo's in the house now and he's about to add a little razz-ma-tazz.

But first of all, as things go, since this is Mathimoto's Complaint, I'd like to add my own complaint.

How come we're using XML for everything nowadays. Now I'm not saying XML isn't great, I actually like it a lot. I'm not so crazy about XSL, but I think ideally you could use XSLT to turn XML to HTML and then pop in some CSS to cap things off (now XSL and XSLT might do things alone, but for real formatting you'd have to throw in XFO or whatever and that's just annoying and Robo-Bobo don't do annoying).

XML's a beautiful concept for data-display and manipulation, basically you mark-up everything with the category or purpose it has, and then you use different transformation and formatting technologies to set things up into a full display, but since the transformation and formatting are separate from the data you can write data down and then decide all that, or you can take data and use several different ways to display things.

However, at the core of it all, XML's a data mark-up language and all the technologies associated with it are data display tech.s. Even if you throw in scripting languages like PHP or Javascript you still have essentially a matter of data display, and currently that's all the web is set up for.

The data display could be dynamic or static, but data display is what the internet was designed for.

And that's not enough.

Because already we have word-processors, games, and all sorts of applications that are used on the web. However, since things are used to data-displays, all the applications must be bastardized into dynamic data collection and display sets. Now overall, GUI's can be pigeon-holed into data-displays (in fact, GUI's are essentially data-collection and displays, and especially if you added a few more features, basically all GUI's come easily be easily created through a XML/XSL/XSLT/HTML/CSS-like technology), but applications? Applications in the most abstract sense can be said to be data collection and display, but to really do things like that is really, really, really asinine.

It's time to say no more! I will not make applications in XML!

But of course I will, because honestly, I'm a bit of a moderate with internet-tech (despite my robotic kola-ness), and I have not the yet the skill or prestige to revolutionize the internet world by myself.

But I shouldn't have to!

Applications should be written in an application-manner, and they should exchange data in an application way. Java Server Pages and such are a little better since there we're actually using application tech, and XUL is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough!

There must be a revolution!

We must!

We must!

We must revolutionize the internet by making it application-friendly!

To me, nerds of Silicon-valley!

To me, Indian sweat-shop engineers!

To me, other people who do other stuff!

Come, let's change the internet, under the grand banner of...


And so on...

So many dreams, so little time

So I have quite a few dreams, far more than I can realize and most likely far more than I ought to realize.

But still, some dreams can live, and some I shall make live.

And here is my plan for the Rand Show that the dream of awesomeness, already realized in this blog, may be expanded into the dream of awesomeness read by the world, not quite realized yet.

My plans for the Rand Show:

More often posting. Given my irregular schedule and focus and the state of limbo my life-style is in without a job, while I will try to post daily I may not end up doing so. Still, giving a frame to my posting plans ought help me to post more often.

So here's the frame:

Monday (well, maybe starting today, but more likely starting next Monday): A rundown of good and great links for the day (a similar daily list oriented toward tv and movies can be found with the good old folks at The House Next Door. This list will be likely oriented to interesting websites, internet essays and good resource sites.

Wednesday: A review or cultural analysis post dealing with the current and past states of tv, books, music, and the internet among other things.

Friday: A news rundown + analysis. This will give some major events, some personal reflections, some larger scale and longer term context, and some links to some other articles.

Now this basic frame hopefully should keep me posting thrice a day. Hopefully I should also be able to do a poetry post on Sunday. And maybe I'll do a music video/lyrics session on Saturdays, maybe, we shall see.

Now to fill out the week I hope to revive the tradition of mini-posts. What defines a mini-post? Either a certain lack of focus or a certain lack of depth, something that touches on some topics but does not give them the fullness of rigorous analysis. In addition to my random thoughts, I am adding to this category my random life posts that sometimes near diary-like, but don't fully analyze the implications of those events of the life of the GREAT AND GLORIOUS RAND!!!

Then there are the mega-posts. The big, essay-like posts which I designed this blog for. I will try to do as many of these as I can, but to be honest these are long and require a lot of thinking, usually that means a lot of time, something I am often short on. Still I should try to do at least one mega-post a week, give or take a couple.

Time is the great limiting factor. I've often thought of what I'd like to do with my life if I was freed of monetary constraints. Perhaps and probably, a lot of writing and at least a good deal of that should be in this blog. But more than just blog writing, I also like drawing, so hopefully in the future I should try to make a Rand gallery of my random art-work and hopefully I will be able to bring back in full flavor, the Rand Show comic. But those plans are uncertain and I make no promises.

Ah so many promises I have made, to myself, to others and to God.

But when it comes down to it, most of the promises I have made to others are not those that I will be held to if they are broken. And God forgives and provides and needs nothing and gives everything. My promises to myself therefore are the ones that curse me the most when broken, because I find it very hard to forgive myself, and there is a worry that my plans for the Rand Show will be such promises to myself.

So let me step back and say firstly, so what! To avoid any danger is to avoid any life and so I press forward. Secondly, while college has taught me humility (though high school taught me a nice degree of pride), I still find myself caught up in the idea that my efforts are destined to save the world and every moment I delay not in work, I risk dooming us all. But while I am great and glorious, that is a wrong assumption.

The world will get on without me, and God certainly will allow me some allowance. After all, am I not his child, and is He not pleased in my happiness? That does not remove my mission to do His will, but this is not a do or die this moment mission, it is a life mission, and it allows me, and perhaps even obliges me to have a life.

And maybe I shall, and maybe I shall have even more, if I can cleanse my spirit of doubts and fears, maybe I can have the life eternal, but that too is a mission for a lifetime.

So take it to your head, take it to your heart, and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

And God Bless.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Happy St. Thomas' Day

Courtesy of my mother I'd like to give a quick rundown of the history of Christianity in that little SW corner of India called Kerala.

In brief, the St. Thomas Christians remained pretty much as one group until 1599 (Diampur Synod), when Portugese Bishop did a hostile takeover of Syrian Christians. But Portugese power waned and in 1653, some of the new Christians could not take the loss of traditional worship. They revolted and had a pledge to go back to Orthodox worship and tradition.Thus the Syrian Orthodox Church was formed. My family part of the church remained in Roman Catholicism and revived little bit of old tradition. They are Syro-Malabar church. Portugese missionaries also converted lot of Hindus from 1498 onwards and this group is called Latin Catholics.

The Syrian Orthodox church split into several factions. One faction under the Bishop Mar Evanios re-joined Catholic church in 1930. Achacha' family and our New Jersey church belongs to this group. This is called Malankara Syrian Catholic Church

So remember Roman Catholic Church in Kerala has three groups or independent 'rites' or form of worship. The The Latin rite, Syro-Malabar rite and Malankara Syrian catholic rite. I should say four, if I include the Kananya Church.

The Syrian Orthodox Church that remained away from the catholic church has three other famous factions: One is called the Othodox Church to which belongs Shaji Achacha's family. They have large congregations in the US and Achacha's friend Thankanchan uncle's family also belongs to this one.

Now there are 17 million Catholics in India, 7 million are Syrian Christians, about 500,000 are Malankara Syrian Catholic.

I was for years trying to figure out where these different factions arise and how they are connected. Now it is all easy to find out from Wikipedia.

And that's my mother (Thresia Thomas)!

A belated happy birthday

These last few days have been immensely busy for me, while my blogging lately has been immensely unorganized and unfocused. But it seems sad to let July 4th pass without mentioning it.

So let me go out and say it Happy Independence Day!!!

Happy Birthday America!!!

Sorry it's 2 days late.

But I suppose I do need to explain why I care so much about July 4th.

Or well, I don't, but I will.

July 4th is Independence Day, remembered for the signing of the Declaration of Independence (which may or may not have happened two days earlier, exactitudes in history are rarely 100% accurate), the moment regarded as the birth of America.

And I love America.

(Ah here's the rub of the matter, I'm talking about why I love America, why didn't I start out with that. Because I can do whatever I want, buddy-boy).

I'm not much for ultra-nationalism. I'm in fact very critical of it. As I have expressed elsewhere, I don't believe nations are gods to be worshiped. But to call them an unreal imaginary construct does disservice to imaginary constructs. Nations are not in our blood, they do not define us, they do not hold claims over us, but we can imagine them, jointly with the world, and we can create something quite grand.

A community, a history, a geography, the shape of some ideals and mental ties that forms an amorphous blog of a national culture.

But most of all, it is a shared dream. That dream is of a people to love, some vast mass of people who you don't know but who you share an indescribable connection to, to love them and for them to love you. That is perhaps the best way to spell out the contours of nationalism.

Yet there must be a wariness. That shared dream of love can become an exclusive love that idealizes only the mental construct of a nation without realizing the humanity behind it that stretches so far beyond it.

But if I've described nationalism, I still haven't described America.

But America is another shared dream, different perhaps from most others, since it was a dream within the dream of liberty, and since its reality was very different from the dream which begot it. But there is definitely a history to America, the name conjures some discreet shapes and some blurry edges but there is enough to give America its own category and territory in the historical tradition. And there certainly is a geography, a land full of contrasts and wonders that boggles my mind at times (again with certain blurry edges (ie areas of uncertain belonging) like the Native American reservations). And there certainly is a community of Americans, there is a people who share a love for someone they can't describe, who is great and terrible, ugly and beautiful, but who touches the our souls with something more than the some of her parts...

Ah America, she is a dream, she is not a divinity, she is not a metaphysical body, but she is something... something to love.

Why do I love America?

Why does anyone love anything more than the fellow-being amount?

Something in her essence, an im-parsable part of her make-up, appeals to me more than any other country or identity (save Christian, ah, that's the limit, I will not defy God for the sake of America, even though I love her).

But if that is not enough of an answer, well, there are mysteries in life one must accept, and if you are not satisfied with this, just accept my patriotism as one of those mysteries.

But anyways, take it to your head, take it to your heart and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

And God Bless.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Secrets are me-cret, I suppose

So let me let you in on a little secret (not really a secret, more of a piece of advice), universities have a lot of free info and stuff. But you might say hey I don't go to a university. Well, okay that might limit you a little, but the trick is to go to professors' pages. You can usually get a ton of free explanations and guides and history facts from professors' pages, and usually they have little to no checking. Hey, probably professors' like to have random people check out their subject-matter. You don't want to let the professors down, do you?

lots of change = good, net-wise at least

So good old Mathimoto has been going through some changes, and with these changes has come much busy-ness, but do not fret! The math continues, and indeed will improve...

For example, soon this blog will utilize the very useful technology of math markup languages. Which exactly, I'm not sure at the moment, but it will be done! And then you'll have nice little graphics here with all the equations and such.

But perhaps most dramatically, joining the crew will be segments by Mathimoto's good friend, a robot-man whose name escapes me at the moment (if he was a kill-bot I would be much scared by this development but fortunately he is not).

Now this blog was initially envisioned as a math blog above and beyond CS, but this is also a blog on the internet so it is natural that CS developments be of some concern. Yet do not fear, the math will not be enveloped, and to protect the math, Mathimoto's posts and his robot friend's will be kept separate. The math will go on!

Because Math rules!