Store for Later Use

It's been ages since I have conducted a quiz. I have been mooching off other people for months... err years. A quiz has been in the works for a long time and I am reminded of the fact every time I visit our quizclub page. It was last updated in 2005 and I have not done what was promised. It has been pricking my conscience every since. Finally, the gnawing into my brain along with collective shame brought upon the folks I have been mooching past the many months has resulted in actually conducting this Sunday's quiz.

Whether you are an active quizzer, a quizzer-in-exile, or quizzer-in-hibernation, once you have taken the plunge as a quizzer you will always be one. Anything you read and hear (no, not touch!) will be stored away for future use. It is an unconscious and automatic process to store all kinds of useless facts.

Now, having to set questions puts all this at a more conscious level. Now you are aware of this automatic filing process. After struggling to make the first few questions, the process becomes easy, too easy. Suddenly, everything you read or hear becomes a potential question. It's not the finding of the information that is hard, it is the framing of it: getting the right images, facts to make the question interesting, workable and informative at the same time. I have some a number of potentially awesome questions getting wasted because of poor framing.

Sample question (any guesses?)

while(1) {
Stephen Hawking ;
Eric Schmidt;
Adam and Eve;
a picture of Zeus;

The best way to set a quiz is to set questions in way that you like them best. I like questions like the previous one. At first, it makes no sense. Then the pieces connect and it all makes sense. In a few moments, you instantly know that you have the right answer.

At the end of the weekend, I had way more questions that I could fit into 2 hour slot. So, I have archived them. Stored for later use.

Sacks's Musicophilia

Review of Oliver Sacks's latest book - Musicophilia on the book blog.

Economics of God

From The Economist:

Religion cries out for a biological explanation. It is a ubiquitous phenomenon—arguably one of the species markers of Homo sapiens—but a puzzling one. It has none of the obvious benefits of that other marker of humanity, language. Nevertheless, it consumes huge amounts of resources. Moreover, unlike language, it is the subject of violent disagreements. Science has, however, made significant progress in understanding the biology of language, from where it is processed in the brain to exactly how it communicates meaning. Time, therefore, to put religion under the microscope as well.

Scientists in Europe have embarked on scientific quest for God. Even if religion or God are scientifically baseless, there can be numerous economic and social benefits. It is said that humans and chimpanzees are the only species that laugh; religion separates us from our cousins on the evolutionary tree. Really, a sticky 'meme' such as religion could not have survived if it did not confer any evolutionary benefits.
(the) long-term co-operative benefits of religion outweigh the short-term costs it imposes in the form of praying many times a day, avoiding certain foods, fasting and so on.

Indeed, research has shown the religion-based groups tend to survive longer as compared to secular groups, which are four times more likely to break up. The fear of the supernatural, or the after-life makes people cooperate. God is the ultimate stick and Heaven the ultimate carrot. We all know that incentives work!

As Dr. Wilson points out "... Secularism is very maladaptive biologically. We're the ones who at best are having only two kids. Religious people are the ones who aren't smoking and drinking, and are living longer and having the health benefits."

It is hard to separate religion from culture and group membership. Even there was a God, or not we want to belong to some group. Atheism can be intellectually and scientifically more honest, but can lead to impoverishment and even alienation in other ways.

Spring in your step

Officially, spring began yesterday. But, Michigan did not get the news. Just when you thought that the winter was over, it was finished, it comes back once last time with a snowstorm. Yet, the clearest sign that it has gone is that it is getting sunnier. The fabled grey skies are gone. We might have another winter surprise, but spring is finally here.

One of the great joys of this change in season is to be able to run outside. After slipping a number of times on the ice, I didn't thinking running outside in the winter was a great idea. You look forward to escape the forced circles around the indoor track to get a decent amount of miles in. Then there is the treadmill, but then there is no difference between you and your pet hamster.

Last weekend, when it was cheerfully sunny, I decided that it was time to finally hit the trail. No wimpy road-running for me. The Huron River Trail is beautiful. There was still some snow on the trail in isolated lumps. Due to the snow that had melted a few spots were turned into muck. It was a rather fun and muddy experience.

Getting down to a run is simply overcoming inertia. Once I am past that door in my shoes, I have never found cause to regret a run. After a couple of miles in the endorphins kick in and then you don't want to stop. I often wonder if I should take my camera along for these runs to record how beautiful it really is on the trail. I have run this trail a number of times in the summer, but early spring is something else. There is still a nip in the air. The leaves from the autumn are on the ground, dark yellow. The river is icy in spots and doesn't look very inviting for a swim. Puddles form below the tiny waterfalls created by the melting snow.

Running is a solitary activity. Even in a marathon when you run with thousands of people, you are still running your own race and alone. I used to run with music, but I have gotten out of that habit. There are plenty of sounds that you can listen to while running that can keep you entertained. Chief among them, being the sounds in your head. That's another reason you want to run alone, at least sometimes. After a while even that chatter in your head stops and you begin to hear other sounds. The sound of the Canadian goose, the branches breaking under your feet, the sound of another runner in the distance. Your lungs expand to take in the fresh air. Then you begin to take in the smells. There is a concert in progress and it took me so long to be aware of it.

Π Day

Today is Π Day. I should do something to do with math to celebrate the day. For a start, I could calculate how much I need to pay my credit card bill. Or, do something that has nothing to do with math. Something really irrational. Running Π miles wouldn't be a bad idea. I find it an interesting coincidence that running Π miles is like running five kilometers(about 5.055K). So, Π is also the most popular running distance.

Perhaps, I should make this a yearly thing and run Π miles every Π Day to gauge by physical deterioration over time.