Saturday, September 26, 2009

Front-wheel drive and hydroplaning safety

With so much water everywhere, it is a good time to warn people about the physics and dangers involved in front-wheel drive vehicles when they run into water puddles.

The drive shaft for the powered wheels (i.e., the ones providing the push) must have a differential that allows the wheels to spin at different rates. For example, when turning, the outside wheel must roll faster than the inside wheel.

The front wheels are the ones in front! Obvious, but that means they are the ones which hit the water puddles first. When wheels hit water, they have a tendency to hydroplane, i.e., float on the surface of the water, rather than clinging to the road's surface. Most roads are built up in the center, so water runs off to the edges. This means that water puddles are likely to be on the right hand side of the road as you drive forwards.

If the right wheel hits the water and begins to hydroplane while the left wheel is still on the pavement, the differential allows (actually causes) the right wheel to start spinning rapidly, because there is no friction on that wheel while it is floating. It only takes a second for the wheel to start spinning extremely fast, especially if the accelerator pedal is being pressed.

Now, consider what happens when you have landed on the other side of the puddle and your right front wheel is spinning at high speed. It will force the vehicle to veer to the left, directly into the on-coming traffic lane. If someone is there, a head-on collision would be unavoidable. Otherwise, it is likely you could spin out of control, especially if you overcompensated and turned the wheel to the right to avoid the collision. If you turn too far to the right too fast, you will skid, and the car will keep going in the direction you were trying to avoid.

Safe driving tips: When your car hydroplanes, remove your foot from the accelerator, and let the vehicle get on the other side of the water before you try to get back up to speed. If you find yourself hydroplaning, in addition to removing your foot from the accelerator, grasp your steering wheel tightly and keep it pointed in your original direction. If you are prepared for the lunge to the left, a steady grip can keep your car under control.

General rule: slow down when there is water standing on the roadway. It is when you are trying to accelerate that the danger is worst.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Racial Matters--Black and White: An Introduction to Southern Culture for International Students

Mississippi: Black and White
Although the State of Mississippi began with a White majority (English and French settlers) and a Black minority (slaves from Africa), today, many areas of the state are predominantly Black. Some sections of the state have large concentrations of Native Americans (Choctaw Indians).
Historically, Whites in Mississippi were farmers and Blacks were slaves imported from Africa to work in the cotton fields. Whites were free and Blacks were treated as property with no rights or freedoms under the law.
During the first 100 years of the American experiment in democracy, "government of the people, by the people, and for the people," some states (the South) depended on slavery for their agricultural economy, and slavery was legal. Other states, (the North) opposed slavery.
Civil War
Less than 100 years after the Declaration of Independence (from England), the various states were divided over many issues, notably, the right of states to make their own laws (on issues like slavery) vs. states following the laws of the Federated Union of States, i.e., the United States. Thirteen states (the South) voted to secede from the Union and joined together to form the Confederate States of America. The northern states opposed this division of the United States, and war was declared, the North vs. the South.
It was a bitter war, often dividing families who fought against each other, and it involved many casualties. The North won, and forced the southern states to rejoin the union. To this day, there are influences of this division between Yankees (North) and Rebels (South).
Remnants of the War
After the Civil War, all slaves were given their freedom. Unfortunately, most of them were ill-prepared for the responsibilities of freedom, and their former masters, struggling to regain their own economic strength without the workers who were taken from them by force, were not able to assist the former slaves in their quest for freedom and the American dream, even if they had a desire to do so.
As a result, White and Black Southerners have separate identities and allegiances, even though they have shared the same region for two hundred years. The South developed into a divided culture focused on resentment.
The Whites resented the North for forcing them to accept a federal government, and for taking their livelihood from them. They resented their former slaves for lack of loyalty to them. The Blacks resented their former Masters for their years of Slavery. The result was a segregated society.
The Civil Rights Act
Almost 100 years after the Civil War began, Blacks in the United States began to make public protests over the inequalities that a segregated South perpetuated. Under the "Separate but Equal" moniker, the South had developed a culture of duplication (and duplicity). There were separate entrances to public places for Blacks and Whites, separate sections of public transportation, and separate school systems for Blacks and Whites, even separate water fountains and restrooms! The Black schools and facilities were notably worse than their White counterparts.
In the early 1960's, the US Government responded to the situation with new laws giving Blacks real equality with Whites. Naturally, Whites in the South resented more Federal intervention into their way of life, but the Civil Rights Act has been enforced and the South now embraces Integration and Diversity, for the most part.
Public vs. Private
The public life in the South is one of diversity, but, in their private lives, both Blacks and Whites voluntarily practice segregation, as most people do. People tend to group themselves with others who are similar to them.
Most of you in my audience, as Chinese students, do not look like most of us (Southerners). You will find there is no discrimination against you because of your skin color or national origin. Americans will be friendly and accepting of you in all public arenas. But you must take the initiative to desegregate yourselves; i.e., you must intentionally get out of your “comfort zone." You must make concerted efforts to speak English and to spend time with Americans. You must avoid spending large amounts of time with others of your same nationality and language.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Praise the Lord for Cancer Freedom

It has been ten years since my prostate cancer diagnosis. At that time, I was given the following options: surgical removal, radiological burning by beams or by radioactive pellets, castration (physical or chemical), or "watchful waiting."
One urologist indicated I wouldn't make it six years if I didn't follow his recommendations.
But I read my Bible and came to the conclusion that I would rather be in the hand of God than of men, and determined to trust God and learn all I could do to be consistent with trusting Him.
That meant that prayer, mine and everybody I could get to pray with me, was the first line of treatment.
After several months of research and being on Internet groups, I found the following fact: No matter what treatment plan people take, the average survival time is ten years. The major difference in treatment modalities was not the treatment, per se, but the side effects of the treatment.
The treatment with the best side effect profile was doing nothing.
I thank God for my ten years and look forward to the next twenty!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

What I Learned from a GPS

We just returned from a 3000 mile driving vacation where we relied on a GPS to get us to our various stopping points along the way.

The Magellan we used only contained maps of the United States and part of our trip was in Canada, so we learned our first lesson when we crossed the border in Detroit: Make sure your GPS actually contains maps to your destination! :)

In real life, we sometimes change directions. Sometimes, we intentionally veer from the course we know is right, and sometimes, we just make mistakes.

The GPS' second lesson comes from taking a wrong turn: "Recalculating route!" That is all there is to it. Not, "Hey, you screwed up; you went the wrong way; you failed!" None of that. Just, "Recalculating route," i.e., how do we get to our destination from where we are now?

I love my GPS. She never shouts at me and never tells me I messed up. She just lets me know she will help me recover my direction. "Recalculating route!"

What else can you do, anyway, when something tragic happens in your life, or you make poor choices that mess up your life and the lives of those around you? I have tried the guilt trip. It doesn't work. My GPS tells me, "Recalculating route," i.e., remember your destination, remember your goal, and figure out how to get there from where you are, now. Nothing else will propel you to where you should be.

Recalculate your route, and get on with the trip.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Google Voice Transcription

Here is one of my first Google Voice transcriptions.

i'm using the local voice compose this blog to describe my first experience was using google voice as the transcription machine so far it seems wonderful i have my office phone forwarded to my cellphone and then i have my crew over the phone number forwarded to my office phone that way i can both yet and have tran scott message is for various reasons the transcription it's very very fast i've been involved with speech processing at the end of this is 50 state university institute for signal and information processing for several years and seeing how complicated and complex the test of speech recognition is the groom translation pants your chin does not do 100% but they promised that it's going to get better actually belch and like everything else moving i suspect that would be true the transcription so for the same to post no limits the battery on your cellphone may go up before you were possibility since have a message automatically terminated calling well that's the first try let's see what happens

It appears like gobbledegook because there is no punctuation or sentence structure. That is OK for my purposes, since I only wanted a raw transcription that I will edit into a blog post. If I were listening to the recording instead of reading the transcription, there would be non-vocalized cues, such as durations of silence, to tell my listening processor the sentence structure. But after a couple of re-readings, I can glean the same information from the text.

My transcription of the same message is at the end of the article.

The first glaring omission is that the Google transcriber does not recognize my pronunciation of "Google" in three out of four instances. :) Someone who can put these two paragraphs into an automated comparison script will find a word error rate hovering around 40%.

I have suggested to the Google Voice Help system that they allow the user to edit the transcription, and then use the edited version and the recording as training input for future transcriptions. It could be tailored to the user, or added to the common speech vocabulary (especially, when the user uses a word not yet in the standard vocabulary).

My first take is that Google has another potential winner on their hands. Remember, this is a pre-release version. It will get better.

The human-transcribed message:

I'm using Google Voice to compose this blog to describe my first experience with using Google Voice as a transcription machine. So far, it seems wonderful! I have my office phone forwarded to my cellphone and then I have my Google phone number forwarded to my office phone. That way, I can both get and have transcribed messages from various people. The transcription is very, very fast. I've been involved with speech processing at the Mississippi State University Institute for Signal and Information Processing for several years and seen how complicated and complex the task of speech recognition is. The Google translation-transcription does not do 100%, but they promosed that it's going to get better as it goes, and, like everything else in Google, I expect that would be true. The transcription, so far, has seemed to pose no limits. The battery on your cellphone may go out before your ability to have a message automatically terminated. Well, that's the first try. Let's see what happens.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

End of Life Decisions

He was only a dog, but Fraggles taught us some important lessons that can also be applied to humans. Face it. Sometimes, unexpected things happen. Perhaps you will be a patient in the hospital leaving your loved ones to face the difficult decisions on your behalf, because you are unable to make them for yourself.
It may be difficult to talk about these things, because you don't want to think something tragic can happen to you. The obvious question is, "Why not you?"
Maybe you will not be able to talk about it to another person. Maybe you will have to just write your thoughts down, all by yourself. These instructions are termed a "living will" or "advanced directive," or something similar.
Based on our experience with our pet, I have some ideas. The first is, Don't go to a research or university hospital, if you have the choice. There are many reasons for this, but the basic one is that they exist partly to help and partly to learn, i.e., the patient is partly an experiment to help them gain knowledge about what treatments may work. Another reason to avoid the researchers is that many of the physicians are students or interns, still in their learning phase. Let them learn stuff on other people!
Another major decision we had to make with the dog was whether or not to have them resuscitate the patient if his heart stopped. With an animal, the decision-makers can not know what choice the patient would make for himself, and that puts a lot of emotional stress on the loved ones.
One woman in my Bible study group commented that her mother had told the family, "Don't let them put that tube down my throat. That thing hurt me so much when they did it, before." The family knew the mother's choice when the need arose the next time, and chose to honor her wishes.
The third major decision that needs to be made is financial. Dogs don't have Medicare or Medicaid, and most owners don't think about health/accident insurance for their pets (but it is available). Before every procedure, the Veterinarian would let my wife and me know the charge that would be involved. Three hundred dollars for a blood transfusion didn't appear too unreasonable, if it would give Fraggles a fighting chance. Resuscitation would be more than one thousand dollars. Beyond it all was the surgeries that would be needed to repair the broken bones, if he survived to that point, and those would also be in the thousands.
When one applies this logic to a human patient, the costs can erase all the family assets and leave the family penniless.
The other important issue for the family is the pain question. Is he in pain? For dogs, you just trust the Vet and hope. For humans, there is a tradeoff between being sedated and being cognitive. Is there something you would want to communicate to your loved ones? If he is overly sedated, the patient may not be able to tell you something important, but if he is under sedated, he may experience pain.
There you have some important lessons the death of our beloved Fraggles taught us about hospitalization.
For me, I know where I am going, next, so I don't want you to do something that will unnecessarily keep me here. For me, I don't want to have any experimental treatment, especially any treatments not covered by insurance. For me, experiencing quality time with family members is more important than minimizing pain.
What about you? Tell your loved ones.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Book Review: The Noticer by Andy Andrews

I have trouble telling people things I think they don't want to hear, so I am uncomfortable writing this review of The Noticer by Andy Andrews. But I made a commitment to the publisher to write a review in my blog, so I will bite the bullet and write the thing.
As far as a work of fiction goes, the book was an enjoyable read and contained a little food for thought. Each chapter seemed take a concept and illustrate it, much in the style of Aesop's Fables.
Substantive content was lacking, except for the dozen or so unrelated, moralistic statements that seemed to form the skeleton of his work. If they came from any particular source, it appeared to be a collection of currently popular books, pop culture and e-mail chain letters. For example, Google searchs on some of his few pithy statements resulted in more than four hundred thousand hits. In short, there was nothing new in the book.
Andrews' unifying theme for his otherwise unrelated extended illustrations was a mystical character named Jones, from whose role the book's title was coined. Jones' role was to apply the pithy statements to various life situations and help the characters notice that the context of their situations was greater than their own selfcentered focus would allow them to see. Jones' identity was vaporous enough for the reader to apply his own interpretation of who he is. He could be a Humanist, an angel, a Shaolin monk, Jesus, Buddha, Jiminy Cricket, or any other self-effacing do-gooder of the reader's experience or imagination. Perhaps that is why the book normally receives such good reviews: the reader sees what he wants to see and thinks Andrews put it there. [Ambiguity may be the key to popularity.]
A preacher could value this book as a source of sermon illustrations. Andrews' ability to put flesh on the bones of his ideas is his strength. Each chapter of the book appears to come from his taking a moral, stating it clearly, applying it to a difficult life situation, and putting it into Jones' mouth.
In a culture that has lost its ties to the Bible, the book has some value, but it should not be considered a Christian book; it does not point people to the Bible or to Jesus. I give the experience three stars.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Dog Death Distinction

When Fraggles died, we went through (are still going through) the Kubler-Ross grief stages. He was only a dog, but he was our dog.
In our case, the hardest part has been dealing with the guilt of responsibility. We were supposed to take care of him--we should have built a fence or kept him tethered. On the other hand, we also recalled that he loved his freedom and did not like being tied down, so we didn't have the heart to restrict his wanderlust. We live in the county; there are no leash laws. His playmates came and went, unrestricted. He would be the only dog in the neighborhood who was kept up. How would he feel about that?
It is much like God's giving Adam a free will: Adam's test would not have been a real test if his freedom to make choices was fatalistically determined, i.e., if his choice could have been only one of the two alternatives: to sin, or not to sin. That freedom to choose either alternative allowed Adam to sin and bring the death sentence on him and his posterity, just as Fraggles' freedom allowed him to wander to the wrong place at the wrong time, and get hit by the passing car and suffer death for himself. (His posterity had already been taken care of, before he came to us from the dog pound.)
During his brief time on this earth, Fraggles did teach us some things about relationships to a master. He depended on us to feed him and he always showed his gratitude with a wagging tail. He guarded our stuff and his territory. He showed devotion to a master, and even though he didn't always understand, he trusted us.
He demonstrated kindness and compassion. He shared his food with other dogs. He showed devotion, loyalty, fidelity and trust. As he related to us, his masters, it occurred to me that we could learn ways to approach our Master.
He was a good dog!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Emergency Room Dog Story (updated)

A crisis! Unexpected hospitalization. May be terminal. This is what we are going through. Our family pet has been hit by a car. He is only a dog, but the emotions and practical considerations for family preparedness are as real as if he had been a human family member.

The first things we thought of were spiritual. Why is God mad at us? Have we paid all our tithe? What have we done wrong?

Then, there were financial considerations. How much is a mutt worth? He had been rescued from the dog pound. He apparently wasn't worth much to his original owner. The pound charges for shots and spaying, and you have to feed him, take care of his parasites, have him clipped, and treat his normal scrapes and strains. But the dog emergency room at the teaching veterinary hospital was estimated to cost us at least two thousand dollars, and up to four thousand, if heroic measures were needed.

I am sorry to admit that, when I heard those amounts, my inclination was to put him out of his misery. :( Another confession is that I don't have feelings. (Someone said I am not in touch with my feelings.) My Myers-Briggs personality type is INTJ. I made a logical choice and was ready to do what was logically necessary.

But all these other considerations paled into insignificance when a mother's love came into the picture. My wife does have feelings. Fraggles is really her brother's dog, but we adopted him when her brother took a job in Canada. Her brother also has feelings. She called him. Mr. Spock (what some people call me) just knows that all this sentiment over a dog is irrational. It does not compute. It is expensive.

Logic and emotion came to a compromise. We said, "Let him have a fighting chance--let him stay in the Emergency Room, tonight." Kaching! $1500. (I wonder if there are medical insurance policies for dogs.) "If his heart stops, should we intubate?" Illogically, we said, "Yes."

The phone rang. "He needs a transfusion," the voice on the other end of the line said, "It is $300." Kaching! He had internal bleeding, broken ribs, a broken leg and hip. "He is only a dog," I said to myself, but not out loud.

Another call just before midnight told us his heart had stopped and they had inserted the breathing tube and resuscitated him. We visited him. The vet was hopeful they had acted quickly enough to avoid brain damage. Fraggles lay there, panting and struggling against the breathing tube in his throat. He was alive. My wife rubbed his head and whispered sweet nothings into his ear. We were home again by 2:00am.

My wife answered the telephone the next morning about 8:00 am. They wanted permission to put him out of his misery. She asked for a call back in 15 minutes so she could discuss it with me. We prayed, but came to the conclusion that if they had asked, it must be serious, so we decided to give permission for euthanasia.

My wife said that Fraggles must have overheard the vet's and her discussing him, because when the vet called back, she was amazed that Fraggles had had an amazing recovery in those fifteen minutes. I keep telling her that Fraggles does not understand those big Greek words, but she is convinced the dog angel must have translated for him!

He is swollen because of the internal bleeding. The transfusion had enabled enough red blood cells to enter his system to keep the oxygen getting to his cells. He has a fighting chance. So we tell them to stay the execution. The Governor has said, "Clemency."

Are we allowed to pray for dogs? Do dogs have souls? My wife is full of questions. We pray as if the answers are affirmative. More telephone calls, more visits, and another transfusion. Kaching!

It has now been 48 hours. He is alive. He has been moved from the examination table to a cage where he is sleeping on a comfortable pad. He raised his head when my wife called his name. The doctor confessed she had never seen a dog whose heart had stopped, recover. Some had come back for a little while, but didn't make the full journey back to life.

Logic tells emotion she must be prepared to let him go. He insists if it were he, and not the dog, he would want to go on. But he didn't know if there was a heaven awaiting the dog. Mentally, he was writing in his living will, "DNR (do not resuscitate). Don't do anything insurance doesn't cover. Don't take me to a teaching hospital. (They might want to learn about a new procedure.)" Kaching!

Emotion uses some logic and calls a friend who has a back hoe. He listens to her tears and digs a nice hole in the cool spot under the trees where Fraggles likes to spend hot days. She says we can plant a memorial bush there if he makes it. The friend will not take payment for his services. Emotion is prepared for the worst.

We visit again, almost 48 hours from the time of the accident. Fraggles lifts his head when he hears Mama's voice. He is not so swollen as before. He may make it!

Another two days have now passed, and Fraggles is still hanging on, eating and improving.
Another emergency call: He may have a blood clot in his brain. Pray!
Fraggles was placed on a ventilator with 100% oxygen. He showed no improvement. He went to doggie heaven a little after 8:00 pm.

We will miss him!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How to lose an argument even if you win it.

There are three mindsets with which people enter an argument.

1. I am going to show the other person the Truth.
2. I am going to find out the the other person's perspective.
3. I am going to let the other person know what my perspective is.

In the first case, you only have "winning" in mind. You are selfish, inflexible and arrogant. You demonstrate that your neither care that there may be another point of view, and you show that you do not value the relationship between you and the other person. You don't even listen to him or her. You immediately attack the other person before he or she has finished giving their opinion, showing your disregard and disrespect.

In the latter two cases, even though you believe in true truth, you also acknowledge that your understanding of it may be incomplete or flawed.

In the second case, you realize that point-of-view and perspective affect the understanding of a matter, so you value the other person's point-of-view and want to be certain you understand the other person's understanding of the matter. You value the relationship, so you give them time to fully express their point, without taking offense or "getting your feelings hurt."

You are able to separate your feelings from your argument even though feelings may be closely attached to the thoughts. You understand that it is possible for you to be wrong, and you are OK with changing your mind.

The third case was put third on purpose, because doing so shows that you respect the other person and it earns respect back from him or her.

If you only use the first case, you lose the argument, even if you win it, because you damage the relationship to the other person.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Productivity Helps

There are several useful web/phone sites I use which allow my cellphone to be more useful or to interface with the web.

1. The first number is called Google-4-1-1. 411 is the telephone number that used to be reserved in any city for information services, especially, where you could get people's telephone numbers.

1-800-goog-411 is the number to dial. It will ask you to speak a business name or category, and then the city and state. It will then give you a list of all businesses that match your spoken request. You can get more information or have it call the number. Note: this appears to be one way to get free long distance calls to businesses outside your local calling area.

2. Next is ReQall allows you to sign up for free telephone-voice to text service. You can tell it your cellphone number, for example, and whenever you call from that number, it will store your messages, both as a recording, and as transcribed with speech-to-text software. You can tell it to send an e-mail or text message with what you have recorded. It has a free version, but I am signed up for the $25 per year version. If you use the word "buy" in the sentence, it will categorize the message into your shopping list. Later, you can retrieve your shopping list, and it will either send the items as a text message, or play back your recordings. You can optionally have it set items on your Google Calendar.

3. Another cool site is called "cha-cha." Cha-cha allows you to ask any question you need to have answered. It will reply with a text message repeating the question it understood. In a few minutes, it will send another text message with the answer to the question. I used it in December when I saw a tax program in Office Max that looked like a good deal. I asked cha-cha, "What is the lowest price to get the tax program?" In a few minutes, it answered, suggesting a place and a price $5 lower than what I saw, so I waited and got the program at the recommended store and saved five dollars. Call 800-2ChaCha or text 242242. They use humans with Internet connections to get the answers. [Don't use cha-cha when taking exams.] :)