Jason’s Ranting & Raving

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Archive for December, 2008

Cool Stuff: I For One Welcome Our Octopi Overlords.

Posted by jaystile on December 30, 2008

I love cool stuff and in my opinion there is nothing in the animal kingdom cooler than the octopus. They are damn smart and adaptable. If anything is going to definitively take over the oceans it isn’t going to be stupid dolphins. There seems to be quite a few octopus stories in the news lately that I would like to share with you.

Octopus eats shark In this video an octopus is filmed eating a shark. The zookeepers ( aquarium keepers?) couldn’t figure out why there were shark carcasses on the aquarium floor.

Octopus Mimics Sea Snake
In this video a octopus is caught on tape mimicking other undersea creatures. The snake at the end is really creepy.

Awesome Octopus Camoflage
Besides the ink shooting reflex we’ve heard about and that has been idealized in cartoons the best defense is not to be seen to begin with. Even after watching this video a couple of times, I still can’t see the octopus until it decides to move.

The value of being boneless
An octopus of 600 lbs can squeeze through a hole of 1 inch diameter. This allows them to gain protection from other predators that cannot get into spaces they can hide in.

  1. National Geographic: Octopus traveling through a maze.
  2. National Geographic: More Octopus squeezing
  3. Demonstration of an Octopus escaping from a maze.

Octopus Wrecks Havoc!
This is probably the best octopus story I’ve seen. Meet Otto the Octopus! Otto likes visitors. In fact when there are no visitors to the aquarium he gets bored. He passes the time by juggling the other inhabitants in his tank. Additionally, he is a good shot. He knocks out the lights with a blast of water. Otto is Awesome!
Read more about Otto here!

Octopi are really really cool. It almost makes me want to get a large saltwater tank and get one as a pet. But what fun would that be if they hide in a small cramped space with camouflage and then shoot your lights out with water and smash the glass with rocks? I’m going to have to pass. Given a few more millennia of evolution and we might seem some serious intellectual growth.

Octopus Emerging from Egg and Octopus opens a jar

Octopi & Coconuts


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Book Review: Crazy by Pete Earley

Posted by jaystile on December 13, 2008

Crazy by Pete Earley is an investigative book taking a look at the current state of mental health in this country. This book was precipitated by his son’s onset of psychosis and arrest. Pete Earley’s son, Mike,¬†was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. During a psychotic episode Mike broke into someone’s house to take a bubble bath. This was after multiple attempts by his parents to get him treatment that were denied because Mike did not want treatment. His story is sewn in between the stories of others with mental illness. ‘Crazy’ a non-fiction book was copyrighted in 2006 and weighs in at 361 pages. Overall, this book is well written and researched with a focus on mental health in the Miami area. It is definitely worth reading.

What is crazy?
Before we get too far into this review we should probably define the term ‘crazy’. The way it is used in this book is: total bat-shit, out-of-your-mind, eating out of garbage cans, defecating on yourself, screaming at people, hearing voices, seeing dead people, everyone is out to get you, kind of crazy. The John Nash (A Beautiful Mind) kind of crazy is not discussed. Mental illness comes in two main flavors, mood disorders and thought disorders. Mood disorders describe uncontrollable feelings without reasons, extreme depression or mania. This is called Bipolar disorder and is still known by its old name of ‘manic-depressive’. The next are thought disorders where one hears or sees things that aren’t real. This is schizophrenia. But if you’re really lucky then you will a have both which is known as schizoaffective disorder.

Carl describes what it is like to be schizophrenic:

“It’s fucked up, man. You want to know what it’s like? How do I know you are here right now? How do I know I’m not imagining all this? Close your eyes. What if when you opened your eyes, you discovered you was now in New York City instead of at Passageway in Miami? Then you closes them again and when you opened them you were in Los Angeles? Or maybe New Orleans? Or Russia? What if every time you opened your eyes it was like you were somewhere else? That’s what it’s like sometimes for me. You ever have a dream where you flew? Them’s the kind of things my brain tells me is true and I can’t tell.”

The Current State
The current state of the mental health system is pretty appalling. Patients are usually first encountered by police who are not trained to deal with the mentally ill. This usually results in excessive force being used that sometimes results in death. Then instead of going to a mental health facility to get help, they go to jail to get punished. They are usually segregated from the other prisoners so they will not be abused. There is a cyclical process where the mentally ill are evaluated to see if they are competent to stand trial for the crime they committed. If not, they are sent to a hospital where are taught to be competent. Then they go back to jail to await trial where they stop taking their medication or are given different types to reduce costs, then they go crazy again, get sent back to the hospital, then back to jail, etc… Renee Turolla researched the Miami area justice system and said about one individual, “The criminal justice system kept repackaging him with medication. Its priority was to make him look and sound competent so he could continue down the assembly line like so many widgets”.

The mental health facilities in jails have been evaluated before. A panel of experts made recommendations to the jail but Pete Earley had different observations:

“They’d recommended that inmates not be held naked in cells. I’d seen them in C wing naked in cells. They’d recommended that inmates be issued blankets and mattresses. I’d seen them in C wing without blankets and mattresses. They’d recommended that inmates be allowed to speak to doctors in private. There was no privacy on the ninth floor. They’d recommended that the officers working there have special training. None of them had.”

A Problem with Civil Rights
One of the main problems is that you cannot force someone to take medication. They have a right to be as crazy as they want to be. When you ask a crazy person, after they have been medicated, if they should take their medicine the answer is usually, yes. When you ask them when they are crazy they answer, no. Dr. Poitier is the psychiatrist at the Miami jail and was questioned by Prosecutor Leathe at a hearing regarding the mental state of a patient and whether or not the doctor could forcibly treat him.

Dr. Poitier: Yes. At one point in the jail, he was almost catatonic.
Leathe: But didn’t he take his medicine this morning?
A: Yes. He took it today because he knew we were coming to court.
Q: What will happen if he stops taking his medicine again?
A: He will decompensate.
Q: And what will happen if he decompensates?
A: He could ultimately die, because when he doesn’t take his medicine in jail, he stops eating.
Q: Why wouldn’t he take his medicine?
A: He has a lack of insight and doesn’t realize he needs it.

Lack of insight seems to be the real problem with mental illness. Those with mental illness do not think they are sick or they know they are sick but do not trust anyone to help them. They can be paranoid and delusional thinking everyone is out to get them. Pete Earley was interviewing Carl at Passageway,

“Carl,” I said, “if the police had taken you to the hospital and asked if you wanted to be given medicine, would you have gone willingly?”
“Hell, no! When you’re crazy like that, your paranoia sinks in and you think everyone’s trying to poison you.”
“Would you have fought them?”
“Absolutely, and I got several ass-kickings to prove it”
“So you would have rather been left alone on the streets than forced to take medicine?”
“Yes and no. I would have been angry and fought, but if they had stuffed pills down my throat, I would have kissed their asses and thanked them once I got my mind back, because no one wants to be crazy like that”

A Little History
In 1955, some 560,000 Americans were being treated for mental problems in state hospitals. Between 1955 and 2000, our nation’s population increased from 166 million to 276 million. If you took the patient-per-capita ratio that existed in 1955 and extrapolated it on the basis of the new population, you’d expect to find 930,000 patients in state mental hospitals. But there are fewer than 55,000 in them today. Where are the others? Nearly 300,000 are in jails and prisons. Another half million are on court-ordered probation. The largest public mental health facility in America is not a hospital. It’s the Los Angeles County jail.

In the 1960s a trend took place called deinstitutionalization. It was found that many of the state asylums were terrible places. Have you seen ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’? That was not an exaggeration and the current institutions aren’t a rose garden. We did not understand the brain then as well as we do now. Most mental illness was thought to be caused by outside factors, like your mommy didn’t love you enough. So the institutions used things like Freudian psychoanalysis and behavior modification techniques to ‘help’ people. Various treatments of the time including water therapy (spraying with a hose), cold therapy (freeze the crazy out), electro shock therapy (destorying parts of your brain with electricity), and lobotomies (scrambling your brain with an ice pick).

Then came Thorazine. The first drug to really help mental illness. But then it was abused to keep patients in a near catatonic state.

Needless to say, the civil rights lawyers of the time helped speed up deinstitutionalization. But the pendulum swung to far to the other direction. A mentally ill person’s family and doctor are not able to get the person the help that they need unless the mentally ill person says they will accept treatment. But again, the problem with mentally ill people is that they have a lack of judgment and don’t think they are crazy. The biggest problem with deinstitutionalization is that is just dumped mentally ill people on the street. Where they acted crazy and then got thrown in jail.

What do do next?
Rachel Diaz from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), “There is no magical pill out,” she warned. “The most important thing for all of us to remember is that our loved ones are sick. They did not ask for these diseases any more than we ask to get the flu. Remember, too, that we are not the victims. We suffer because we care, but the mentally ill are the real victims.”

There is some progress being made. In Miami a man has established Passageway, a half-way house for the mentally ill who have committed felonies. The benefits of this are that the patients have the maximum amount of freedom possible. They attend daily therapy sessions where they are drilled on the techniques to recognize the symptoms of their mental illness. They are compelled to interact with other patients to prevent withdrawal. They go on outings to help reestablish their social skills. Also, they voluntarily take their medication to control the symptoms of their mental illness otherwise they have to go back to jail or an institution. Pete Earley supports this as the model for helping and reintegrating people with mental illness back into society.

I’ll finish with a thought from Pete Earley: What is missing in our system today are modern, long-term treatment facilities where the chronically mentally ill can receive good medical attention and, if necessary, can live safely until they can be moved into less restrictive facilities.

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Want to remember forever?

Posted by jaystile on December 2, 2008

Have you heard of this guy, Piotr Wozniak? I first read about him in an article at wired.com. He has been researching memory since 1985 and has developed an algorithm to help you learn things until your mental faculties completely leave you.

Excerpts from the Wired article
Say you have learned something…
Practice too soon and you waste your time. Practice too late and you’ve forgotten the material and have to relearn it. The right time to practice is just at the moment you’re about to forget. Unfortunately, this moment is different for every person and each bit of information.

When do we forget something we have learned?
….human forgetting follows a pattern. We forget exponentially. A graph of our likelihood of getting the correct answer on a quiz sweeps quickly downward over time and then levels off.


SuperMemo is a tool that has been created to implement Wozniak’s algorithm to test people at a specified periods to ‘refresh’ their memory of a subject. From looking at screenshots and website the software leaves much to be desired, but the idea is awesome! It has been geared toward learning languages, but there a lot more possibilities! Imagine a tracking system for school aged children that repeatedly tests their math skills or grammar skills. You would have customized tests based on what the child can recall and have a very precise idea of what skills the child has mastered. A SuperMemo package could be used for medical students with the huge amounts of data that need to be recalled. This would also apply for physics, chemistry, and math. I’m thinking about trying it myself to learn all the odds for my Poker Hands.

Has anyone used this product? I found one account of usage that seemed promising where they were studying for an Oracle DBA exam.

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Book Review: A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Posted by jaystile on December 2, 2008

I have never read a book that has fundamentally changed the way I view the world. My friend offered the label “consciousness raiser”. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn is the most profound history I have ever read. It has challenged my core assumptions about the country that I live in. It is not that history has been misstated in the books we have read in high school and college, it is that they have been understated. A People’s History takes the perspective of the poor and underprivileged and shows how they have been repressed and exploited by the privileged few systematically through the centuries. We as people of the United States of America are and have been led by a small group that does not represent the majority but that of the wealthiest 1%.

Wikipedia has an a great chapter by chapter summary. Come with me while I take you through a few examples and quotes from this book.

Chapter 1: Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress

An excerpt from Christopher Columbus’ log regarding the Arawak people in the Bahama Islands: They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…. They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want. Christopher Columbus, Discoverer of America! (except for the fact America was already populated)

The Spaniards did subjugate Hispaniola (now The Republic of Haiti and Dominican Republic). Another quote: They rode the back of Indians if they were in a hurry or were carried on hammocks by Indians running in relays…. The Spaniards thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades. Of the estimated 3-8 million indigenous people of Hispaniola none survived. Every last man, woman, and child was killed by disease, hunger, or the sword.

Chapter 13: The Socialist Challenge
After the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 was signed by Abraham Lincoln all the slaves were free. There was no more slavery in America! Well, don’t you worry the Establishment has lots of societal and economic pressures to keep the majority in line. The rights established by the Emancipation Proclamation were not enforced until the Civil Rights Movement was well under way. So if you are a Native American, Black, Immigrant, Homosexual, or Woman you did not get equal treatment under the law. In fact, sometimes you had special rules applied to you ( Jim Crow Laws, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell ) if you were a woman working as a teacher in Massachusetts in 1900:

  1. Do not get married.
  2. Do not leave town at any time without permission of the school board.
  3. Do not keep company with men.
  4. Be home between the hours of 8 P.M and 6 A.M.
  5. Do not loiter downtown in ice cream stores.
  6. Do not smoke.
  7. Do not get into a carriage with any man except your father or brother
  8. Do not dress in bright colors
  9. Do not dye your hair
  10. Do not wear any dress more than two inches above the ankle.

In the early 1900s people begin to form unions to protect their rights. Like the right to work a 12 hour day instead of 16 hour days, for enough money to buy food and pay rent, for children to go to school instead of work in the factories under dangerous conditions. But that was too much for your wealthy masters. Strike breakers were brought in to take the jobs of those striking. Union leaders were killed. Strikers were threatened, beaten, fired upon, and killed by police and by our own National Guard with permission from government.

Chapter 8: We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God

Every war that America has been involved in has had an economic backing. They are too numerous to note. Let us take the Mexican-American War. In the White House now was James Polk, a Democrat, an expansionist, who on the night of his inauguration, confided to his Secretary of the Navy that one of his main objectives was the acquisition of California. His order to General Taylor to move troops to the Rio Grande was a challenge to the Mexicans. And do we really think the war in Iraq is about freedom?

Historically Accurate

Historically Accurate

Closing Comments

A People’s History is a long read weighing in at 688 pages. Not only that, the content matter is challenging and disturbing. Everyone should be required to read this book to fill in the gaps in their knowledge of the United States and perhaps to reflect on their unbridled nationalism. I am aware of the fact that we would not be the world power we are today without the actions of our current and historical leaders, but that still does not make it right.

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