Archive for March, 2014

Data on Datamatch

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

The Harvard Crimson (Feb. 19, 2014) has an article entitled “Data on Datamatch.”

Over half of Harvard undergraduates awoke on Valentine’s Day morning to find a personalized list of students with which a Harvard Computer Society algorithm determined they are most compatible. A total of 3,672 students, 2,074 women and 1,598 men, participated this year year’s Datamatch, which 20 years after its founding still uses the same algorithm.

The pairing is actually pretty complicated,” HCS President William S. Xiao ’16 said. I bet it is.

HCS meets the night before Datamatch results come out to sort all of the questions from the survey into ten personality trait-based categories. Every answer is then plotted based on the traits it tests for.

Questions are then weighted based on the intuition of HCS members, distribution of answers, and the correlation between the answers of survey participants who indicated that they were in a relationship with another participant.

A lot of people ask if it’s random, and it’s not random,” said Xiao, who added that there is “some secret sauce in it that I can’t reveal.

Questions for the survey are generated less scientifically. “With the questions we just think about anything that will be funny, and we think about the implications of the questions later,” Xiao said.

Aren’t you glad you did not rely on a Harvard undergraduate’s intuition to find your spouse? I found my spouse at Harvard. And with no help from HCS. In fact I doubt there were many computers on campus. We relied on the Holy Spirit–how old-fashioned! In my new novel GROWING UP WHITE (NY: Harvard Square Editions, 2014) on page 87 I describe the romance of the protagonist which was similar to mine: “Anna and I shared under a Kentucky coffee tree in front of Widener Library. I was in the shadow of one of my lovers and in the arms of another. Later that evening we shared a yellow spread blanket while listening to the Boston Pops at the Hatch Shell near the Charles River. The juxtaposition of the glittering John Hancock Building and the deepening twilight of the Charles River basin added just the right amount of ambiance to create eternal love. The next day we quietly contemplated the grace of God and one another in rapture and gratefulness as we stared at each other in the shadow of Revere Beach (p. 87).”

Life is mostly full of ordinary, predictable events, but, ever once in a while, we stumble upon those extraordinary events. The discovery of a spouse. The birth of a child. The end of a sickness. I hope your life is as full of extraordinary time as mine is . . . certainly I owe it all to my loving God–and not to HCS.

Snack Time in the Cosmos

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Black holes, the ultradense collapsed objects predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, are often depicted as voracious feeders whose extraordinary gravity acts like a one-way membrane: Everything is sucked in, even light, and virtually nothing leaks out. Sort of the way I consume Rotel Dip I expect. Everything is sucked in, especially jalapeño peppers, with just a drip or 2 (or 3) (or 4) tracking the dip to the lip.

Now, for the first time, astronomers may have a chance to watch as a giant black hole consumes a cosmic snack.

In March or April, a gas cloud that has been hurtling toward the center of the Milky Way is expected to collide with Sagittarius A*, a black hole that lies just 26,000 light-years from Earth. (The actual event, of course, took place 26,000 years ago.)

The cloud is as massive as three Earths — no match for the black hole, which has the mass of four million suns.

“This is a rare opportunity to witness spoon-feeding of a black hole,” said Avi Loeb, a theoretical astrophysicist at Harvard. “Will the gas reach the black hole, and if so, how quickly? Will the black hole throw up or spit the gas out in the form of an outflow or a jet?

“The experience is as exciting for astronomers,” he went on, “as it is for parents taking the first photos of their infant eating.”

If the black hole devours a sizable chunk of the cloud, a digestive process that could take many months to years, fireworks could ensue. Heated to billions of degrees as it spirals inward, the doomed gas cloud may emit a last gasp of radiation, ranging from radio waves to X-rays.

But even if the encounter proves a dud, it may still provide insight about the feeding habits of big black holes, which are believed to reside at the center of nearly every large galaxy.

Of course this is no big deal to God–Who created the heavens and the earth. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

All in a day’s work for our mighty God! Still . . . wondering what happens when that big boy–the black hole–burps. What does that look like? Just thinking . . .


Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Viewed as a historical marker, popular music is a revealing barometer of culture. It exemplifies the diverse moods and views of the American public at different times in history. Music presents insights and multiple points of view as well as an emotional impact which other historical documents, particularly written, often lack. People listen and enjoy music. It speaks to the heart of what is America. It shows in uninhibited fashion the hopes and dreams of a people. Through music, history comes alive and we can connect directly with people and events which may otherwise seem remote to us. As such, rock and roll can be a powerful tool to introduce recent historical events and issues. It is the only indigenous American music that has been with us since the first African set foot on the North American continent.

Rock ‘n’ roll traces its origins to the African-American slave community. Rock n’ Roll began in the crucible of African culture, chattel slavery, and resulting slave resistance. Thus, from the beginning, rock and roll was a subversive activity, a protest movement. In a sense, it never really lost that tone.

Ironically, then, perhaps our most indigenous music was from an enslaved society. Every society has its indigenous music, which serves as entertainment and accompaniment to ritual and ceremony. Our music was rock n’ roll.
Rock ‘n’ roll was resurrected in the American folk music of Stephen Foster and Cole Porter.

Music historian David Townsend writes, “This last ingredient is crucial: they didn’t sing the Blues back in Africa. Rock ‘n’ roll is an African-American hybrid, but its strongest root is the very suffering, and survival, of generations of slaves, who learned how music could help a man to transcend earthly pain for awhile. The Blues sings of sadness, toil, and loss, but the reason for singing the Blues is to relieve the hurt these things cause. The Blues, with its simple, repetitive rhythms and chords and lyrical phrases, provides a comforting communal message that musician and audience can share, as long as they know where the singer is coming from. It’s no wonder that Blues singers were so popular during the Depression, especially in the South, among both black and white audiences. It’s also easy to understand the strong bonds between rock ‘n’ roll and Gospel music: from a secular point of view, singing about the Lord lifting you up and singing about the Blues fallin’ down like rain are spiritually equivalent acts.”

Nonetheless, Rock and roll emerged as a defined musical style in the United States in the early to mid 1950s. Rock and roll in turn provided the main basis for the music that, since the mid 1960s, has been generally known as rock music.In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio, disc jockey Alan Freed began playing this music style while popularizing the term rock and roll to describe it.

Because the development of rock n’ roll was an evolutionary process, no single record can be identified as the first rock and roll music. In terms of its wide cultural impact across society in the US and elsewhere, Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”, recorded in April 1954 but not a commercial success until the following year, is generally recognized as the first, unadulterated rock and roll of the modern era. (Stobaugh, Studies in World History, Vol III, Master Books, 2014).

Mongol Hordes: Nomads by Choice

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Perhaps no empire in history has risen so quickly as that of the Mongols. In less than one generation–about 80 years–a band of warriors comprised of a few ferocious warriors grew to an empire that encompassed all from the Pacific Ocean to the Danube River. This story is one of the most interesting ones in history and ultimately it was the Mongols themselves who were their own worse enemy.

Sometime in the 12th century, various Mongol tribes roamed the steppes of Mongolia. The Mongols, a nomadic food gathering tribe, emerged as the most powerful tribe in history. They first defeated neighboring nomads and forced a portion of Northern China to pay tribute. This was not to last. In 1160, the Mongol Kingdom was decimated by the neighboring Tatars tribe. It looked like the Mongols would depart from the world stage forever.

The leader of the Mongols was Yesugei, who was a descendant of a Khan (chieftain). In 1167, Yesguei and his wife had a son named Temujin, the one who would become Genghis Khan. When Temujin was nine years old, his father was poisoned by Tatar chiefs.

Temujin and his family (7 people total) moved to the most desolate areas of the steppes. When Temujin was 16, the Merkid Tribe attacked his family and captured his wife. With help from neighboring Mongol tribes, Temujin recovered his wife. Temujin took control over most of the Mongol Clans.

By 1204 Temujin had subjugated all that opposed him. He defeated the Tatars and all neighboring nomadic tribes.

In 1206, Temujin held a great Khuriltai (assembly) on the banks of the Onon River. There, he took the title Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan created a military superstructure that conquered all of Asia. The population was divided into units responsible for maintaining a certain amount of warriors ready at any given time, thus overriding previous tribal organizations. Furthermore, he decreed many specific laws and created an efficient administrative hierarchy. Genghis Khan created the most advanced government of any nation up to that time. Genghis Khan was to look to China next. (Studies in World History, Stobaugh, Vol. 1)

O sages standing in God’s holy fire

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

English poet William Butler Yeats wrote a poem about Byzantium: “O sages standing in God’s holy fire/As in the gold mosaic of a wall,/Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,/And be the singing-masters of my soul.” Byzantium is full of contradictions, full of anachronisms.

By AD3 64 , the Roman Empire had been definitively split into two separate states: The Eastern Roman Empire, and the Western Roman Empire. The Western Empire soon collapsed under the weight of attacks by barbarians, and Europe entered the so called Dark Ages or Medieval era. While the Western Roman Empire collapsed, imperial rule in the East survived for almost a 1000 years. The Byzantines were especially important to Eastern Europe, for its influences in art and religion. However, as Western Europe grew more prominent, foreign pressure brought the Eastern Roman Empire to a decline. The empire collapsed to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, one of events that also precipitated the end of the Medieval period.

Byzantium is the name given to both the state and the culture of the Eastern Roman Empire in the middle ages. Both the state and the inhabitants always called themselves Roman, as did most of their neighbors, until the Empire succumbed to Ottoman invaders in the 15th century. Western Europeans, who had their own Holy Roman Empire called them Orientals or Greeks, and later Byzantines after the former name of the Empire’s capital city, Constantinople. Again, though, if we stopped a resident of 12th century Byzantium and asked him who he was, he would not know what Byzantium meant—he saw himself as a Roman citizen.

Such is the diverse history of Byzantium. Whatever it became, it was the continuation of the Roman state, and until the seventh century, preserved the basic structures of Late Roman Empire culture– a large multi-ethnic urban Christian state and defended by a mobile, highly specialized, effective army.

After the Arab/Islamic conquest of Egypt and Syria, Byzantium became much more of a Hellenistic state, all the cities except Constantinople faded away to small fortified outposts. The Byzantines governed and administrated their declining empire the same way earlier Romans handled Roman Britain.

There is then a persistent contradiction about the beginning of Byzantine history – between the building of Constantinople by Constantine I and the mid-7th century collapse of late antique urban culture. Who were the Byzantiums? Greeks? Romans?

The seventh to ninth centuries were tough times in Byzantine history. This was a time when Roman Christian Byzantium changed to Eastern Orthodox Byzantium.

The main struggle in the Church, and in the Empire, was the struggle over icons. Until the Eastern Orthodox Church prevailed, there was some unease in the Byzantium Empire.

From AD 900-1100 Byzantium’s political power reached its apogee as former colonies were annexed into the Empire, and the military carved out a small, but secure Empire between emerging Russia and nascent Medieval Europe.

This period is also significant as the time in which Byzantine culture was spread among the Balkan peoples. Following massive Turkish attacks in the late eleventh century, the Empire quickly declined until it was conquered by the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. (From Vol. 1, Studies in World History, Master Books, 2014)

Occupy Wall Street

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Manuel Castells, University Professor and Wallis Annenberg Chair in Communication Technology and Society, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, will speak tonight (Feb. 18) on a theme related to his recent book Networks of Outrage and Hope; Social Movements in the Internet Age (Polity Press).

This book is an exploration of the new forms of social movements and protests that are erupting in the world today, from the Arab spring to the nationalist movement in Spain, and the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US. While these and similar social movements differ in many important ways, there is one thing they share in common: they are all interwoven inextricably with the creation of autonomous communication networks supported by the Internet and wireless communication.

In this timely and important book, Manuel Castells – the leading scholar of our contemporary networked society – examines the social, cultural and political roots of these new social movements, studies their innovative forms of self-organization, assesses the precise role of technology in the dynamics of the movements, suggests the reasons for the support they have found in large segments of society, and probes their capacity to induce political change by influencing people’s minds.

There is pecedence for this phenomenon. In Christianity: A Social and Cultural History, Howard C. Kee, et al. In one generation—75 years—Christianity emerged from its original Jewish context and developed into a worldwide religion, offering perceptive studies on how its origins and development were influenced by the changing social and cultural contexts in which the founders and leaders of this tradition lived and thought. This sophisticated social movement, using the most modern social media outlets—home meetings and mass rallies—to battle Greco-Roman and Jewish religious concepts. Kee considers the structuring of the church conceptually and organizationally in Europe, and discusses Christianity’s spread and growth in America and throughout the world. He examines the development of Christian doctrine and intellectual traditions. In short, Dr. Castells, if you think the Arab revolution and Occupy Wall Street are impressive, you should examine the Apostle Paul’s Occupy the Whole World Movement . . . Just thinking.

The New SAT

Friday, March 7th, 2014

The SAT from its inception has been an attempt to provide colleges with a tool to identify potential candidates for their universities. It remains so today.

Universities use it to predict college performance. It is, undoubtedly, pretty good at doing that. Occasionally students who do poorly on the SAT do well in college, but almost never do high scoring SAT students perform poorly in college.

Incidentally, that is one main difference between the aptitude/IQ SAT and the ACT: the SAT is a predictor of college performance and the ACT is an assessment of high school performance.

These will be among the changes in the new SAT, starting in the spring of 2016:

  • Instead of arcane “SAT words” (“depreciatory,” “membranous”), the vocabulary definitions on the new exam will be those of words commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.” Does that mean the vocabulary on the SAT is changed? Not really. Does that mean preparation should be different? Not really. Students should still read good books and learn Greek and Latin roots.
  • The essay, required since 2005, will become optional. Those who choose to write an essay will be asked to read a passage and analyze the ways its author used evidence, reasoning and stylistic elements to build an argument. Ok, but I bet you that the best schools will still require it. We hope so because presently homeschoolers are the best writers in the country.
  • The guessing penalty, in which points are deducted for incorrect answers, will be eliminated. I like that.
  • The overall scoring will return to the old 1,600-point scale, based on a top score of 800 in reading and math. The essay will have a separate score.
  • Math questions will focus on three areas: linear equations; complex equations or functions; and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. Calculators will be permitted on only part of the math section. Sweet! Sweet! Sweet!
  • Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quotation from the text that supports the answer they have chosen. Love it!
  • Every exam will include a reading passage either from one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Well, it is about time!

In conclusion, these changes are not substantially different from the changes that were made in 2005. The company that sells my family milk put a new cover on its carton last January. Does that mean that the company is different? No. Does that mean that the milk is different? No. Does that mean that anything is improved? Not really. Nor is anything worse.

In short, and you heard if from me first, I think these changes are God inspired and by 2018 evangelical Christian, born again Christians, mostly homeschooled, will have averages scores of 1525. Thanks be to God that I have lived to see these good things and in this time and in this place I give God thanks!

You heard it from me first!

The Gender Gap

Thursday, March 6th, 2014
Chuck Leddy in the Harvard Gazette (Feb. 11) writes:
Young women studying computer science were introduced to a group of potential role models as part of a weekend conference at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).
The event, organized by Harvard Women in Computer Science, drew some of the most successful women in the field, along with sponsors such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. It included keynote speeches from entrepreneurs and senior executives, mentoring lunches, and an eight-hour “hackathon” Sunday at the Harvard Innovation Lab. Students from 40 U.S. colleges and universities were in attendance.
“When I was growing up, I thought the gender war was over and women had won. But it’s still not over,” said Amy Yin ’14, co-founder of Harvard Women in Computer Science.
“The biases may be more subtle now, but the statistics are not. When I interned at Facebook last summer, I was the only woman on a team of 12,” added Yin, who is concentrating in computer science. “There’s a saying that ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,’ which is why we wanted to develop a community of women in computer science.”
The first keynote speaker was Rebecca Parsons, chief technology officer at ThoughtWorks, a Chicago-based software design firm. “Women bring a different perspective to solving problems,” said Parsons, who noted remarkable progress toward inclusiveness in her three decades in the field — which wasn’t to say the work is over.
“I was told when I was in school that women were incapable of understanding math and science,” she said. “Today, saying something like that simply isn’t socially acceptable.
“The biggest challenge now is that people may not fully recognize the kinds of subtle biases that still exist. When hiring, for example, people tend to look for someone like them, people they’re comfortable with.” This works against women. “If we can make talking about bias less charged, we’ll be much better off.”
Wait . . . in the homeschool community women score the same as men on the SAT Math section!  In fact, women score higher in all sections.  Ooops! What this means that homeschooled ladies are flooding into the sciences . . . no excuses, asking for no breaks. Our young female students are just getting the job done–thanks be to God and to Him alone belongs the Glory!
One final note.  What a God we serve and what a great sense of humor! I guess God does not read the Harvard Gazette, or if He does, he decided to write His own story . . . Love that God myself.  How about you?


Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

British writer Virginia Woolf’s assertion that “on or about December 1910, human character changed” is all so true. About that time, modernism emerged as the primary social and worldview in human history. Modernism aims at that radical transformation of human thought in relation to God, man, the world, life, and death, which was presaged by humanism and 17th-century philosophy (e.g., Immanuel Kant), and violently practiced in the French Revolution. French philosopher J.J. Rousseau was the first to use the term but it would not blossom fully until the 20th century.

If the worldview deism suggested that God was out to lunch, modernism, a cousin of naturalism, suggested that God was absent altogether.

Modernism, in its broadest definition, is a cultural tendency originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The world, including America, had rapidly changed from an agrarian to an urban society in one short generation.

Modernism fervently believed in science and technology. It was an optimistic vision of the future. It was also a revolt against the conservative values of limitation and pragmatism. The trademark of modernism was its rejection of tradition. Modernism rejected the lingering certainty of Enlightenment epistemology and also rejected the existence of a compassionate, all-powerful Creator God in favor of human progress. The first casualty of this quixotic thinking was Judeo-Christian morality.

Modernism was universal in its rejection of everything conventional. Literature, art, architecture, religious faith, social organization, and daily life were all targets of this surprisingly arrogant movement. Perhaps no social movement has been as confident in its moral ambiguity as modernism was.

The poet Ezra Pound’s 1934 injunction to “Make it new!” was paradigmatic of the movement’s approach toward the obsolete. And Pound is a good example of the paradoxes inherent in modernism. Pound embraced a new understanding of human liberty and free expression while also embracing nascent totalitarianism and anti-Semitism. Pound, like so many modernists, felt he could separate his ethics from his worldview. This delusion would have disastrous consequences. Adolf Eichmann had a similar view in Nazi Germany and designed and implemented the Holocaust.

The modernist movement, at the beginning of the 20th century, marked the first time that the term “avant-garde,” which the movement was labeled until the word “modernism” prevailed, was used for the arts. Surrealism was the “the avant-garde of modernism.”