Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ramblings on ignorance, or ignorant ramblings?

Sitting in an airport, waiting for a flight allows me to ponder many things. Quite often they're work related, or have something to do with my personal life, but occasionally my thoughts will wonder to slightly more philosophical material.

Last week I started considering the implied meanings of many commonly said things. The phrase "I don't know" began to dominate my thoughts as I realized that I almost never said it without having some other message attached to it. I suspect that the same can be said for almost anyone else.

If you examine the situations in which "I don't know" is used you'll find that there is usually some kind of implied statement which immediately follows it. I've tried to break these down into categories and I think I've come up with something to cover almost any situation. Here they are along with my observations.

I don't know, but I know how to find out.

This is, if you will, the best informed state of ignorance possible. It means that the speaker is only one degree of separation away from the knowledge in question. The speakers almost compensates for not having an answer by knowing how to obtain the answer. In most cases where this phrase comes up, the person being questioned is actually quite knowledgeable about the subject, but simply doesn't know the answer to a specific question.

Consider a simple math question. If someone asked you, "What is 13+2+84-22?" it's unlikely that you would have memorized the answer to this question, but your knowledge of simple mathematics would enable you to easily determine that the correct answer is 77. If a person could reach this 'level of ignorance' on all subjects it would actually make him incredibly smart because even though he would not know the answer to a particular question, he would be capable of obtaining that answer.

I don't know, and I don't know how to find out.
This, of course, is the opposite of the previous statement. There is always a chance that the speaker will eventually gain the knowledge he lacks, but it depends greatly on whether or not he cares about the question and continues to consider it.

I don't know but here's what I think:
This statement appears whenever someone is rather opinionated on a subject. Naturally there is a certain level of ignorance acknowledged, but it is tempered by the fact that the person knows enough about the subject at hand to form some (hopefully rational and informed) opinion.

In some ways this is dangerous, because one can make an assertion about a subject that he or she admits to not knowing much about. In many cases this statement appears with a tacit "I don't know" making it seem almost as though the opinion is a known fact. Such a situation should be approached with considerable caution. It can either lead to misinformation or lead to a correct answer by means of intuition, intelligent assumptions, and possibly even dumb luck.

I don't know and I have never considered it before.
This is a state of simple ignorance. The speaker has most likely never been exposed to the subject material at hand. There's nothing wrong with that. But it's speaker's reaction to this statement that is truly important.

If the speaker follows "...I never considered it before" by a careful analysis of the question or the general subject at hand then his reaction is admirable. He has recognized his ignorance and then takes action to remedy the situation. He is not far behind the person who says "but I know how to find out."

If the speaker does not consider the question and his lack of an answer, then he has, for all intents and purposes, said "I don't know, and I don't care."

I don't know, and I don't consider it important to know.
This can actually be a respectable answer to a question. It isn't necessary for everybody to know everything, so considering a question and then, after due diligence, labeling the information as irrelevant is perfectly acceptable. Often, someone who means this will instead say "I don't know and don't care." This usually works in conversation, but there is a subtle difference.

Consider the question, "What is the distance from the Earth to the Moon?" If you plan missions for NASA, then the answer to this is pretty important. If you are a truck driver the distance from Chicago to Dayton will be much more useful. That's not to say that NASA employees shouldn't know the distance between two cities or that truck drivers shouldn't know the distance between two heavenly bodies, but chances are that knowledge isn't very useful in their lives. Therefore, the knowledge isn't really important to them.

I don't know and I don't care.
If there is one type of detestable ignorance, this is it. The main distinction between this and "I don't consider it important to know," is that someone who says this has skipped the process of determining whether or not the knowledge is important. Not only has the speaker acknowledged his ignorance, but he has shunned even the possibility that it may be important to him. Someone who repeatedly does this will tend to remain in a state of ignorance with little hope of educating himself.

You don't know that you don't know.
This is pure ignorance, but I don't necessarily mean that in a negative way. Everybody falls victim to this at some point, though it is seldom recognized. In fact I broke with the standard "I don't know" format because this is something which is most visible from an observer's viewpoint. The strange truth is, the very acknowledgement of ones own ignorance shows a certain lack of ignorance. In other words, by saying "I don't know" you are demonstrating that you are aware of your own ignorance. Yet we are all ignorant of many things without even realizing it.

For instance, suppose you ask someone, "What is pi?" A kindergartener typically won't know that the answer is 3.1415926535 (and so on.) More than that, he won't know that you are talking about a number rather than a pastry. So if you ask the question to this child, he will, rather than saying "I don't know," proceed with some description of pie. He didn't know that he didn't know the answer. Anyone with a 6th grade education (or thereabouts) should at least recognize that a pi is a number and pie is a food. Even if they don't know the value of pi, they are still exhibiting a higher grade of ignorance than someone who has no knowledge of math or geometry.

After plenty of consideration, I haven't been able to find any other ways to classify ignorance that don't fall into one of the groups above. So, now that the subject has been explored, what does it all mean? You may take away from this, what you want, but I've found that examining the level or type of ignorance I display is actually helpful for improving my thought process. If I take the time to determine the type of ignorance I display in any particular situation, there's hope that I'll be more likely to reduce my lack of knowledge.

If everyone who encountered a question they couldn't answer took a few minutes to look ask themselves which type of ignorance they displayed, it might lead to a more responsible environment where people actually learned from not being able to answer questions. But if someone follows every unanswered question by ignoring his own lack of knowledge, he will be saying "I don't care" and perhaps being irresponsible by not correcting his ignorance in situations where he could or should learn the answer to the question.

(Here ends the lecture.)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Quote of the unspecified temporal interval

"In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock."

Thomas Jefferson

Weekend de-motivator

Don't think about it too long or you might realize how true it really is.

I'm giving a free plug here because that's where I ripped off this file.

Friday, April 28, 2006


Hold on a second.

Does anyone remember the post on the potential European pyramid? Well there's one LITTLE problem with that little archeological find. The location of the supposed pyramid was recently (in geological terms) under a glacier.

Ooops. Guess that little detail got left out. (Further information makes the leading 'archeaologist' on this investigation sound, well, read the article yourself and see what you think.)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Yaaarrrrrr! I'm a pirate corporation

I just scraped my jaw off the floor so I could make this post.

Now I'm sure that plenty of people out there have comitted some form of piracy, be it copying music, programs or some form of intellecual property. Lately companies in China have been getting some attention because of the large quantity of fake products which have been coming from the region. These pirates freqently dupe people into buying inferior products by imitating well known brands.

That's what most of them apparently do.

THESE GUYS on the other hand, have taken piracy to a whole new level.

After two years and thousands of hours of investigation in conjunction with law enforcement agencies in China, Taiwan and Japan, the company said it had uncovered something far more ambitious than clandestine workshops turning out inferior copies of NEC products. The pirates were faking the entire company.
Evidence seized in raids on 18 factories and warehouses in China and Taiwan over the past year showed that the counterfeiters had set up what amounted to a parallel NEC brand with links to a network of more than 50 electronics factories in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Hey, why fake a few products when you can fake an entire company??!!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fun with Windows

A couple months back I ran across a series of spoofs on the Mona Lisa. Here's one of the pictures.

It's nothing special, but I started wondering, what other things could you find pasted into the familiar windows XP background?

That's right, XP Gothic. I think it's really a bit too cheery to go with the original mood of the painting.

For the history buffs, there's always the possibility of reenactment battles. (If you were really creative you could have the icons attack each other.

Like sci-fi? Paste a couple spacecraft and an extra moon three into the picture.

There are plenty of opportunities for motor sport enthusiasts too.

Of course, you know the linux crowd has to take a shot at Microsoft. (Sorry Bo)

And for those days when nothing is going right with your computer - the H-Bomb background.

Isn't photoshop grand?

Quote of the unspecified temporal interval

"#3 pencils and quadrille pads."

- Seymoure Cray (1925-1996) when asked what CAD tools he used to design the Cray I supercomputer; he also recommended using the back side of the pages so that the lines were not so dominant.

I think one of the marks of true brilliance is the ability boil something incredibly complex down to somthing much simpler . My hat is off to you Mr. Cray.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Unfit for any place but hell

I wouldn't exactly call this getting cultured, but today's website has quite a collection of quotes from The Bard's work. Only these aren't the lovely soliloquies that I find so fascinating, but some of Shakespeare's more 'saucy' comments.

Shakespearian insults.

In a day and age when there is an ever shrinking list of forbidden words, and seemingly no creativity in insults, I have to say, some of these lines are actually refreshing. (At least as long as they aren't being said about me)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Dusk at Midway

After a flight out of of Midway, and a night's sleep in a hotel I went on to spend 3 hours in meetings. One free lunch and an equipment inspection later and I was on my way back to Chicago.

The best part? It's just an ordinary day.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Today's overlooked headline

I just noticed that archeaologists are reporting that they may have found evidence of a pyramid in Bosnia. Not only would it be the first Pyramid found in Europe, but it may actually be larger (according to some estimates) than the great pyramid of Giza.

There may even be other structures nearby!!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

You're kidding, right?

I ran across this link a little while back and I'm still amazed. It's not surprising that the USSR had a secret submarine base, but it's incredible how much this thing looks like the set of a James Bond film.

The great part is, now that this place has been decomissioned, it's actually open for tours. (Bus tours full of guys dressed like Dr. Evil will no doubt flock to the area.)

Math madness

Something here doesn't add up
                a = b
a^2 = ab
a^2-b^2 = ab-b^2
(a+b)(a-b) = b(a-b)
a+b = b
2b = b
2 = 1

x = (Pi+3)/2
2x = Pi+3
2x(Pi-3) = (Pi+3)(Pi-3)
2Pix-6x = Pi^2-9
9-6x = Pi^2-2Pix
9-6x+x^2 = Pi^2-2Pix+x^2
(3-x)^2 = (Pi-x)^2
3-x = Pi-x
Pi = 3

-1 = -1
-1/1 = -1/1
-1/1 = 1/-1
sqrt(-1/1) = sqrt(1/-1)
i/1 = 1/i
i = 1/i
i * i = 1
-1 = 1

It took me a little bit to find the flaws in all of these. After that it's obvious why it's wrong, but until then, these things will make your head hurt.

Monday, April 17, 2006

She canna take much more cap'in

I always wonder what type of far out projects rocket scientists will try next. I'm not really thrilled that NASA is the first group trying this (I suspect it will be a grossly inefficient project as a result) but I still think the fact that it's being discussed is really neat.

The anti-matter driven spaceship!

Whoops, wrong one. Here's the right picture.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter!

This is awful, and you've probably seen it before but I'm posting it anyway.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


I thought this would go well with this morning's post.

"There's no such thing as a good gun. There's no such thing as a bad gun. A gun in the hands of a bad man is a very dangerous thing. A gun in the hands of a good person is no danger to anyone except the bad guys."
-- Charlton Heston, 15 Sep 1997

It's a simple thought that's spoken very plainly, but every bit of it is true.

April 15th B.A.G. day

Some years ago several bloggers declared April 15 "Buy A Gun" day. The reasons for this varied, but the basic idea was to encourage responsible, law abiding citizens to assert their second amendment rights.

Now I'm not running out and purchasing a new firearm today. (I'm still making a list of things I can and cannot do in Cook County IL) But I certainly am doing some shopping.

The problem is, there are just so many choices out there.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


It's not too often that I get a chance to do some good rail-fanning, and it's not until recently that I've had a camera good enough to really get good pictures. Luckily my work can occasionally make it easier to do some train chasing. No, I'm not running out and chasing trains in the middle of the work day, but being on the road does take me to plenty of different locations where I can do some railfanning.

The Winchester and Western railroad happens to be very close to one of my employer's facilities, so it's not too difficult to get a picture or two of the locomotives in operation.

The W&W (known to many locals as the old 'Weak and Weary' because of it's limited activity) was originally created during WW-I as a way to move lumber from the hills around Winchester to the B&O mainline. Now it runs from Gore to Winchester and most of it's business comes from a local quarry.

Most of the locomotives are older EMD units, although there are at least a few more unusual units on their roster.

Here's just a taste (I'll get more photos the next time I'm back there) Engine no 709.

It doesn't really hold as much appeal as a steam locomotive, but it's still nice to see something like this up close. Hopefully I'll get more chances to go railfanning soon.

Is that 'vroom' with two o's or three?

I'm still recovering from my last trip, so I'm not posting anything elaborate today.

Here's a link I just ran across that talks about the latest cars that are too extravagant for most of us. Go have a look!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Old downtown Winchester

After work I went looking for a place to eat and ended up in old downtown Winchester (VA)

The city has done an absolutely amazing job of preserving the old downtown atmosphere. There are plenty shops and restaurants along the closed-off streets and alleyways. Right in the middle of it all there is the old courthouse, which now houses a Civil War museum.

The monument is for the confederate soldiers who died in the war. It's one of several such monuments in the region, as this was a hotbed of activity. In fact, Winchester changed hands more than any city during the war.

There were also several elegant churches in the area which, from the outside, looked to be in excellent condition.

Even many of the businesses have made an effort to keep with the old fashioned look of the area, and although the styles varied considerably, they're still quite lovely.

Sunny day?

Bo apparently thought the picture from yesterday was too gloomy. So Here's another pic taken just after work today. I couldn't get any blue sky, but it does have puffy clouds and plenty of sunshine.

This is actually looking back at where I was parked when I took the picture the other day. The Clearbook Shopping Center is also the home of a very popular little lunchroom with a half dozen booths and as many stools at the counter. Every time I've been there at midday, the place is packed with people. In fact the parking lot usually has about 12 or 15 cars in it (there's enough room for about 10.)

The food there isn't great but it's decent. Besides, it's very fast, inexpensive, and close to work.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Random snapshot of America

This was taken today on my lunchbreak.

Looks like the perfect picture of modern day rural America to me. I love it!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Perfect search results

It's impressive how good search engines are today. Just check out the search results that came back for this blog.

Oh, wait. Never mind.