Wednesday, June 9, 2010

If a Tree Falls in a Forest

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

The nature of everthing we do is determined by the reaction it elicits. We teach our children based on this philosophy. We applaud good behavior and punish bad behavior. We laugh when a comment is funny, but gasp and shake our heads when it is inappropriate or offensive. What may be effective with one audience could coast over the heads of a completely different one. The tree in the forest is not only silent, it doesn't even exist without someone to acknowledge its existence.

For example, imagine a basketball game is underway, and the visiting team scores. This is bad. But it isn't bad because it was the visiting that scored. It isn't bad because it means the home team may lose their chance to move on to the finals. It's bad because the audience says so. They shout "boo!" and "come on!" and throw things. They throw their hands in the air in disapproval and shake their heads at the referee. They toss ill-conceived pieces of advice toward the home team's coach, thinking they could have better defended that play blindfolded than did the team they root for.

Meanwhile, the young children in the crowd watch all of this transpire, and learn that it is bad when the visiting team scores. They do not learn this because the home team lost their chance at the finals; they learn it from watching the reaction of those around them. When they grow up, their reaction will be the same.

However, what is a bad thing to the home team's fans, is a very good thing to the visiting team's fans. The reason the visitor's goal was a bad thing in the home stadium was the greater number of home team fans than visiting fans in the crowd. Had the visiting team brought more of a cheering section, it wouldn't have mattered the venue, their victory would have been good.

Similarly, where one person may laugh, another may take offense. We tend to learn this quickly, or take it into consideration when "feeling out" a situation, and tailor our speech for the group we are with.

From this phenomenon springs this question: If you tell a joke in a forest, and no one laughs, is it funny? Forest or not, the answer is no.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Weapons of Math Destruction

I built a ballista. It took forever, and wound up looking like... well... like I built it. Which I did, so that makes sense. Documentation was a large part of the project, and this involved writing a log of our progress. Primarily to prove that we did, in fact, spend a substantial amount of time on it instead of throwing something together at the last minute. I wrote mine to sound like I'm a spy in enemy territory, recording my progress so that if anything happened to me all would not be lost. Building a ballista is risky business, you know.

This is my log:

Day 1:
Bought wood, metal for track, adjustable bungees, tin snips, “power-grab” glue, and an orange Powerade from Home Depot. Went to remote storage unit to retrieve necessary tools. Found a nail gun. Wasn’t allowed to use it.

Day 2:
Nailed legs and front plank together. Nailed metal track to front plank. The wood split quite a bit around the nails.

Day 3:
Tried to glue wooden support board to metal track to ensure stability during launch. It seemed to work okay, but the metal curved away from the wood in the middle and the glue did not hold. Regretted purchasing glue. Resented Home Depot employee that sold it to me. Nailed them together instead. Tried to deeply embed nails in metal track to prevent bumpiness in the track. Sewed a launch pouch to hold ball out of scrap fabric from curtains or some other unidentified interior decoration.

Day 4:
Attached bungees to wood with nails. Acquired scrap wood from construction site (completely legally). Tried to make a base when I got home, failed due to inability to hammer sideways. Wished I had nail gun.

Day 5:
Family in town. Enlisted a cousin to help me nail base. Tested launcher. Launch worked the first time, but failed later attempts due to a bump in the metal track near the end. Removed entire track and used other half of metal to make a new one. Cut ends in a “V” rather than straight across for smoother launch. Cut pouch off of bungees, as it was not releasing the ball when desired. Replaced with short piece of wood, nailed to bungees. Nailed again to bungees nearer the edge of the wood to prevent wood from flipping over. Ditched wooden support idea, determined it unnecessary. Subsequent launch attempts were successful. Lip developed where track met wood. Tried to rectify using hammer. Made it worse. Stopped trying to fix it. Tested launcher. Constructed launch. Went to remote storage unit again to retrieve fishing line for trigger. Returned to house and set trigger. Attempt successful.

I spent the rest of that night constructing a model for Calculus that was also due the next day. I stayed up until 2:30 am. I do not understand why it is necessary for us to have three projects due in the last three days of school. Further investigations to follow.