Googling Gives Us Answers—But Deprives Us Of Intelligence

The article I have provided a link for below is quite good even though its title may be somewhat misleading.  The deprivation of intelligence because of the ubiquitous use of search engines like Google is not what is addressed primarily in the guts of the article.  It is more a listing of the practical issues that the author sees with the current construct and use of search engines.

But I was drawn in by the title, which was something I have been thinking of for a while.  I realize that while I have access to a wealth of information because of the existence of the search engine, information that I am also able to freely share with others at the drop of a hat,  I am really not getting any smarter because of this.  It is questionable whether the amount of information that I can retain in my mind, and the kind of critical thinking that is crucial to my intelligence, have really been helped.  In fact, because of the easy availability of information, I might be less inclined to try to figure things out, and even retain information.  After all, why would I bother deriving the area of regular dodecagon when needed when all I need to do is look it up on the Internet.

via Google’s search algorithms act as our brains—but what are they trying to get us to think? — Quartz

These amazing little birds just broke the world record for nonstop flight

This is amazing stuff to me!  We have a tendency to believe that existence, perhaps even the Universe, is all about the human experience.  Really?!  Stories like this are reminders that amazing stuff happens close to home without our participation or interference.  In fact, I would argue that overall our participation in the grand scheme of things has actually been quite negative in its impact.

**********
Common swifts spend nearly a year on the wing and will travel the distance of seven round-trip journeys to the moon in their lifetimes.

Source: These amazing little birds just broke the world record for nonstop flight

The data revealed that common swifts — which make a 10-month journey from Northern Europe to Central Africa and back each year — spend 99.5 percent of their migration in the air. When they did touch down, on a tree branch or patch of ground, it was only for an hour or two. Then back into the air to continue their marathon journey.

“It’s absolutely minuscule, the time they actually spend resting,” Hedenström says.

Three of the birds never landed at all. Instead they spent their entire migration aloft, traveling more than 10,000 miles without rest. No other migratory bird — not even the tenacious frigate bird, which spends weeks on the wing during long ocean crossings — is known to spend so long in the sky.

The Passage of Time – In the year 2016

It was the probably the year 1980 or 1981.  We were graduate students returning from an outdoor trip.  It was some time in the evening, and we were tired from the daytime activities.  We decided to stop at the local steak place that we had never been to before for dinner.  We were seated at a table in the restaurant and opened up the menu to look for food to order.  A quick look and we realized that we had gotten into a restaurant beyond any of our budgets.   We made a quick and silent getaway before the waiter could get to our table.

Fast-forward to dinner for my birthday this year at a relatively new local restaurant that we have wanted to go to for some time.  After looking at the menu I was reminded of the incident from my younger days.  I could not help thinking about how life has changed since then.  I would not have been able to eat in this restaurant under the circumstances of my youth.  Even if I could have, I would have been more careful than I was being today in selecting the items from the menu.  It is not just a matter of things being affordable after all the working years, it is also the fact that one feels more secure in one’s own situation in life.  Is it a feeling of entitlement, of thinking that you can have anything you want because you have earned it, or of even trying to flaunt your status in life?  Is one spending money just because it is there?  I hope not.  At the end of the day, food is meant to simply to quench the pangs of hunger and keep you nourished, and the fact that we have found ways to really enjoy the experience of consumption, and even expand it, is really a bonus, mostly because we have built up a civilization that thrives on this concept.

I try to tell myself that even while enjoying my good fortune I should not forget those that are less fortunate.  We have set ourselves a goal of somehow matching our dinners at restaurants with contributions to organizations that provide food for the needy.  And hopefully we can do more.

The Passage of Time (10/5/2009)

Not sure if this fits into the weekly category, but since life is a quest for something or the other, I decided to post this old letter from 2009 with a few pictures I took at that time…

img_1612The leaf dropped out of the tree and was caught by the gentle Autumn breeze as it fell from the sky.   I swung my arm lazily as I ran by, as the leaf drifted across the trail.  Amazingly I made contact and the leaf ended up in my hand.  Alright!, I said to myself. At least that is what I thought I was doing.   But these days I am sometimes not sure if I am speaking to myself, or if I have said something out aloud without realizing it.  But it did not matter in this instance since I was all by myself.   I could behave like an happy two year old without having to worry about somebody looking at me in a strange way because I was not “acting my age”.
img_1602img_1652Perhaps, this is one reason I enjoy being out there on the trail.  I can scream out loud with a sense of wonder every time the heavy locomotives of the freight trains power past me.  I can even sing loudly to myself with only the flowers, the birds, and the occasional curious squirrel hanging around to hear the cacophony.  I can drop the burden of “expected” behavior and be myself.  I can take unplanned diversions from the trails into the unmarked woods if I want.  I can follow the butterfly or dragonfly as it flitters from flower to flower, hoping it settles down long enough at one location without flying away at my approach, so that I can take its picture.  (It does require a lot of patience!)  It is truly a healing process to get away from “civilization”.  Maybe I have a stupid smile on my face when I am out in the woods, and this why the few people I encounter seem to respond to me with a pleasant Good Morning.  Maybe they are all as crazy as I am.

The heat of summer is behind us and the cooler days of Autumn have arrived.  There are the cool and crisp Fall mornings – with the clear and bright blue skies, with the occasional fluffy wisps of clouds floating by – looking like light cotton balls that are being gently pulled apart by some unseen hand in the sky.  There are the cold and gloomy mornings, when the clammy feeling penetrates your jacket, and even your skin, when the heavens are filled with dark ominous clouds that block the sun and scurry across the sky, as if in a hurry, eager to get somewhere.
img_1578

The leaves are just beginning drop from the trees and there are already a few spots of reds and yellows in our neighborhood and on the trail.  The Frittilary that I saw in large numbers at the beginning of summer in Black Hill park have long since gone, and so have the somewhat rarer Monarchs.  There is still the occasional Tiger Swallowtail to be seen, but other than a few Skippers, this really seems to be the season for the Sulphurs.
img_1587The unidentified dragonflies and damselflies are still around in smaller numbers, occasionally flying around in pairs as if they were indulging in some sort of mating ritual (perhaps they are!), but they will also disappear as surely as the butterflies and the leaves on the trees.

The various types of ducks that I used to observe at Black Hill have long since gone, and I am looking forward to Spring when I hope to see the somewhat rarer migratory species once again.  The Canada Geese that are supposed to be migratory never left, and they dominate the lake and the river these days.   The cardinals are still around, but the robin will only return in spring.  My good friends, the blue heron, can very frequently be seen in certain sections of the canal fishing.  (Yesterday I saw a whole bunch of cormorants perched on some rocks in the middle of the Potomac near Harpers Ferry.  I was even fortunate to capture the picture of a raptor, perhaps it was an eagle or a osprey, diving into the waters of the Potomac to come up with a fish that it had caught!)
img_1627

The last flowers of summer can still be seen in the woods of Black Hill and along the towpath – the purple chicory, some white and purple fleabane, some asters, a few goldenrods, and some others that I still cannot identify.  I wish I had more time!img_1597
img_1649img_1668I cannot wait to experience the vast expanses of the fields of Virginia bluebell on the towpath in Spring.

And thus the days, the seasons, and the years go by, and one finds that one has survived to reach the age of 50!  (Teresa had arranged a great surprise Birthday party!  Thanks to John from arranging his trip from Bangalore so that he could spend the evening with us.)  The times seem to rush by in a hurry, and before I knew it, over 20 years of marriage have gone by and the kids have all grown up.   In just a few years the next generation will be ready to take over the reins from us, and eventually we will also be consigned to the dust.  The cycle of life will continue. I have to remind myself constantly that we need to do our best while we are here, and that we also need to make the best of what we have without being greedy.  In tough times I have to try to remember that I am one of the fortunate ones, and that the present will eventually become the past.  In the short time that we have here on Planet Earth, perhaps we can try to leave our mark by doing something positive for others, and we can also try to leave the world in a better shape than we found it.  Maybe, just maybe, this could be The Meaning of Human Life.

Life goes on.   Keep on Truckin…
img_1628img_1633img_1567

Come On, Get Up…

We have to finish this race!

I think many of you will recognize these words spoken by Abbey D’Agostino of the United States when she stopped to help another runner, Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand, who had also fallen during the 5000 meters heats at the Olympics.  They were strangers to each other.  And then Nikki returned the favor by helping Abbey towards the finish line when she was struggling at the end.  Very dramatic and touching!

But how many of us will get beyond the visuals of the drama that was being played out on a television screen and consider how these circumstances relevant in our own lives.

I think it is difficult to get beyond the constraints of ones own selfishness and think truly in terms of the human family.  Even if we are simply not thinking about our own well-being and protection, and perhaps even glory, we are most likely thinking about others only the context of their relationship to us as family or friend (or enemy), or maybe even in the context of community and country.    We care more about the well-being of those we know and those we can identify with rather than that of the stranger, right?  There are times that I have wondered why we pray only for the soldiers in our own armed forces at church?  Do we think of the soldiers on the other side as being less human, of not having the same problems that ours have, of not going through the same thoughts and struggles that ours do?  I am sometimes haunted by the number of times I have walked away from something bad that was happening to a stranger without offering a hand in help.  It was none of my business, and I could always find a way to try to push the guilt into the recesses of the mind, and to memory cells that would hopefully not be reawakened.

We can tell ourselves that it is a natural state of mind for humans to care more about the people you know and love and can identify with.  But this is also a selfishness in some form.  Unless we can find a way to truly expand our love and care to the family of all humanity we will continue to be mired in the destructive ways of the world.   I know that this is fantasy that is not going to happen, and that I am being naive in even bringing up this topic, but the incident at the Olympics reminded me that there is a spark that in present in some people, even if the number of such people is a minuscule minority on this planet earth.  Surely such people have the instinct and ability to do what is right in other circumstances also, not just in the glare of an extravagant sporting event.

Are we able and willing to help the strangers among us?