Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Joys of Science

I'm building a DC motor right now.

It's a tedious project, you need to wind a bunch of wire around some nails, then put it all together on a board.  I look forward to hooking it up tremendously.  It will be so satisfying.  It's cool when you see how something is supposed to work, then actually verify that it works how it's supposed to.

Last week I got to derive the equations for impedence matching, then verify them in the lab.  Super simple experiment, and the derivations weren't too bad if you have a decent calculus background.  We graphed our results and compared them with our theoretical results, and for some reason it's just super exciting to me when you see how close your equations match with reality.

The same thing goes for programming.  Instead of working out theoretical problems on paper, you get to put symbols into your computer to get it to do things.  Once you learn a few things you really start to see the possibilities for what could be accomplished, even if you can't get there yet.

All this to say that if you have the ability to take some quantitative science classes in your schooling I would highly recommend it.  Even if you aren't a math person, there are plenty of classes that don't require calculus.  It might be hard, but it is worth it to learn a little bit of the magic that makes the world work.  It's important to actually see how science works, and the best way to do that is to verify it for yourself.  Once you start seeing some results, it gives you more confidence in how it all goes together.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Click Clack Moo Cows That Type - A model for peaceful resistance

Sometimes I like to analyze the media we provide to our kids.  See this post for more of that action.
We recently got a copy of Click Clack Moo, and Gabe likes us to read it to him at least once a day.  It's a silly story about some cows who find a typewriter.  They use it to demand blankets for themselves and the hens.  The Cows and Hens go on strike, refusing to produce, until the farmer gives in, trading them blankets in exchange for the cows giving up the typewriter.  There is a twist at the end, and the ducks end up with the typewriter, demanding a diving board for their swimming pond.

In reality, this story is somewhat of a parable.  Farmer Brown, as the old white man in charge of the farm, represents the status quo holding down the working class (the animals on the farm).  Imagine his surprise at the cows getting ahold of a typewriter!  They now have a voice, and begin challenging the powers that be.  Much like the 19th century women who were relegated to the sphere of domesticity and prevented from speaking in the public sphere on account of their biology, the cows can only speak moo, and thus are not offered a seat at the table as to how the farm is run.  The typewriter gives them an outlet, and represents the power of the oppressed to refuse to be ignored.

Not surprisingly, the cows begin demanding their rights.  When the farmer refuses them even basic material comforts, they respond with the only tool they have available, withholding production.  The chickens join in, forming a unified group against the dominating power.  The farmer is incredulous.  "You are cows and chickens, I demand milk and eggs!" he responds.  The powerful use cultural structures to keep the oppressed from questioning the nature of their oppression.  The caste system in India, or the biblical justifications used by southern slave-holders, rest on the idea that certain groups of people are destined to fulfill certain roles.  The cows aren't valued as persons, only as a means of supplying the farmer.

In a deal with the devil, the cows and chickens agree to give up their voice in exchange for their comfort.  Once again they will do the farmers bidding and stop questioning, so long as they have blankets to keep them warm at night.  In making this deal without the consent of the other groups that aided the cows in their struggle, they betray their cause as a whole.

In the end the ducks, who recognize the power of words and who gained no advantage from the cow's betrayal, took the power for themselves.  Instead of serving as mediators to the deal, they secretly steal the typewriter and begin issuing their own demands.  Thus the struggle continues, and those in power begin to be held accountable for their actions towards those that they govern.