Ever since I was a little kid I can remember my grandfather’s weight set. He had benches and barbells and free weights and I think there was even a kettlebell or two at some point. He would always try and get his four grandsons to work out under his supervision. For quite some time he even helped one of the neighborhood kids train (and now that guy is actually a cop – a very, very strong cop). He loved weight lifting his whole life. I even have this great newspaper picture of him from back in the 1950’s where he’s doing a one-arm press with a barbell of 152.5lbs for a competition. (He won, by the way.)

I worked out under his care for several years in my early teens. I eventually stopped once I got a job, a girlfriend, mounds of homework, a car, etc. On the one hand it was understandable that I would stop. I was a teenager and there was a lot of exciting stuff out there for me to experience. But on the other hand, I know I lost a lot of potential by not keeping up on my exercises. Fitness in one’s teens years can set one up for a whole boatload of strength in the future.

Fortunately I did always maintain some degree of my fitness thanks to my general activity and my metabolism. Even without working out I tend to be a healthy person, and for that I am lucky. But what made me even luckier was the fact that I had learned so much under my grandfather’s tutelage. I may have lost strength (not particularly fitness), but I never lost the knowledge of technique, form, and breathing that he taught me. Take this technically difficult exercise for example:

This is one that I do rarely. Part of the reason is that the majority of my working out in the past several years has been in basements with low ceilings. I could manage that exercise in my grandfather’s basement at age 13, but now it’s just too likely I will hit something. Fortunately, I have taken to using a gym for various reasons, so I will be able to incorporate the clean and split jerk into my work outs in the near future.

Another reason why that exercise is not in my current plan is that I do that one arm side press I mentioned earlier. I don’t do it with a barbell, nor do I do it with 152.5lbs, but it is part of my work out. And it’s tiring. I can’t find any videos of exactly what I do, but this is close:

The difference between that and what I do is that I don’t hop and split my feet. Instead I press and squat all in one motion. (Unfortunately YouTube searches for “one arm press and squat” either yield kettlebell exercises or simple one arm presses coupled with separate squats.)

While I love technically challenging exercises (they do a ton plus they’re just fun), I think the most fundamental exercise is the barbell bench press. Now, this obviously depends upon what one’s goals are. So, no, this exercise is not fundamental to everyone. But I’ve always felt it has made up the cornerstone of my work outs. In fact, I generally think of most of my other work outs in terms of how they can help my bench press. That may not be the best mindset, but I can’t say I’m disappointed about where I am. (One of my exercises, the dumbbell bench press is specifically for the sake of improving my barbell bench press.) There is just something beautiful about the simplicity of some exercises.

I am endlessly happy that I had the grandfather that I did. He taught me a lot about fitness (and so much more). This knowledge is something that I plan on utilizing for the rest of my life, just as he did for his entire life. I couldn’t be more thankful.


“Missing” mass discovered

There are at least two types of mass in the Universe: dark mass (matter) and every day mass. The former represents about 83% of the matter in the Universe, but it has never been directly observed. In that way, it is “missing”. (Or at least it was before Zwicky proposed it – and it will still be “missing” if that theory, though generally accepted, proves to be wrong.) The latter type of mass, the sort we encounter every day, makes up 17% of the matter of the Universe, but of that 17%, some is “missing”. Until now:

Undergraduate Amelia Fraser-McKelvie made the breakthrough during a holiday internship with a team at Monash University’s School of Physics, locating the mystery material within vast structures called “filaments of galaxies”.

Monash astrophysicist Dr Kevin Pimbblet explained that scientists had previously detected matter that was present in the early history of the universe but that could not now be located.

“There is missing mass, ordinary mass not dark mass … It’s missing to the present day,” Pimbblet told AFP.

“We don’t know where it went. Now we do know where it went because that’s what Amelia found.”

Part of the reason dark matter has not been directly observed is that it doesn’t interact (by and large) with the electromagnetic spectrum. That makes it rather invisible – even if we utilize different wavelengths (such as infrared light or microwaves). But this other matter does interact with lightwaves. It just happens that the correct lightwaves are X-rays:

Fraser-McKelvie, an aerospace engineering and science student, was able to confirm after a targeted X-ray search for the mystery mass that it had moved to the “filaments of galaxies”, which stretch across enormous expanses of space.

This is pretty interesting stuff, especially since it was an undergraduate who combed the data to show that they had detected these “filaments”. She even got published in a prestigious journal, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. So congratulations to Amelia Fraser-McKelvie, and good luck in the future. I just hope her future work comes with more in-depth news articles for those of us who aren’t physicists.

Thought of the day

“VEVO”, or whatever the hell that bullshit is, ruins YouTube videos. No, I do not want to go to a different screen, wait for ads to load all over the place, watch an ad, watch my video, then have another ad yell at me. And all the while the videos on the right side are apparently controlled by “VEVO”, thereby not showing me anything that is actually related to what I’m watching. Go to hell, VEVO.

Damon Fowler interview

Hemant Mehta has conducted an interview with Damon Fowler. It can be found here, and it’s an interesting read, but the best part? Damon now has a $16,000+ scholarship for college.

Religion and the fear of death

One of the motivators for religious belief is the comfort it provides. For many people it provides an immediate comfort because it allows one to be a part of a bigger group, and people like to belong. For others, it provides a comfort of ‘knowing’. For instance, we all want to know the answer to a lot of basic questions like “How old is the Earth” and “How did humanity begin”. Religion – while it has either always been wrong or been forced to defer to science in order to be correct (and even then it usually mangles things) – makes strong claims that it has the answers. But for so many others, religion provides comfort against the fear of death. Many of us want to believe we keep on existing, that all we’ve done in our lives has some unending meaning, and maybe ultimately, that we are never alone. It is this final sort of comfort that indirectly forms the basis of some new research:

Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Union College (Schenectady, N.Y.) have found that people’s ‘death anxiety’ can influence them to support theories of intelligent design and reject evolutionary theory…

The researchers carried out five studies with 1,674 U.S. and Canadian participants of different ages and a broad range of educational, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds.

In each study, participants were asked to imagine their own death and write about their subsequent thoughts and feelings, or they were assigned to a control condition: imagining dental pain and writing about that.

The participants were then asked to read two similarly styled, 174-word excerpts from the writings of Behe and Dawkins, which make no mention of religion or belief, but describe the scientific and empirical support for their respective positions.

After going through these steps, participants who imagined their own death showed greater support for intelligent design and greater liking for [Michael] Behe, or a rejection of evolution theory coupled with disliking for [Richard] Dawkins, compared to participants in the control condition.

However, the research team saw reversed effects during the fourth study which had a new condition. Along with writings by Behe and Dawkins, there was an additional passage by Carl Sagan. A cosmologist and science writer, Sagan argues that naturalism — the scientific approach that underlies evolution, but not intelligent design — can also provide a sense of meaning. In response, these participants showed reduced belief in intelligent design after being reminded of their own mortality.

While it was creationism intelligent design that was chosen for this experiment, I see this study as representative of religion at large. When shown two different arguments, a sizable portion of the participants clearly chose to reject evolution on the basis that it provided them with no sense of meaning. It isn’t particularly relevant that the alternative was specifically creationism intelligent design since there is no science to be found within any religious idea anyway – nor is there any science supporting any religious claim of significance. Any relatively mainstream religious idea could have been presented in science-y terms – just as creationism intelligent design is – and then used as a tool for comparison.

This isn’t all to say that the primary motivator for religious belief is the fear of death. I suspect it’s actually culture and upbringing – the biggest indicator of what one’s religion will be is what his or her parent’s religion is. But the fear of death – the fear of the unknown – frightens people and makes them uncomfortable. Religion helps to ease that discomfort with its made-up stories and fairy tales, and so it acts as a tightly woven net that catches people before they can fall into reason or even momentary consideration of their beliefs.

While the results of this study are obvious (and while they will be distorted by believers), I think there is another interesting point here, albeit an obvious one. There are a lot of accomodationists (Collins, Giberson, Miller, etc) out there who will argue that religion and science are compatible. While their position is one that is in some ways a small improvement over the current situation, there is comfort in the fact that they aren’t winning over too many adherents. People still recognize that evolution does largely eliminate their particular, cultural god. The fact that we know humans were not inevitable (or any other animal, for that matter) means that most of the gods in which people believe are untenable. That is, the sort of gods people praise are almost always the ones that deemed the inevitably of humanity. That inevitably takes away the random components of life and gives credence to why a god would care about us at all. I think the recognition that evolution takes this all away is ultimately good because it shows that while these people do not understand evolution in its details, they do understand its implications. That is a good thing – even if they falsely associate those implications with a lack of meaning in life.


New 3-D map of the Universe

This is pretty awesome:

Astronomers have created the most complete 3-D map of our local universe, revealing new details about our place in the cosmos.

The map shows all visible structures out to about 380 million light-years, which includes about 45,000 of our neighboring galaxies (the diameter of the Milky Way is about 100,000 light-years across)…

The map was assembled using data from the Two-Micron All-Sky Survey (2MASS) Redshift Survey (2MRS), which took 10 years to scan the complete night sky in near-infrared light. The survey used two ground-based telescopes, the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Ariz., and the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

Near-infrared light, which is of a longer wavelength than visible light, can penetrate the opaque clouds of dust common in galaxies. This allowed the 2MRS survey to extend its “eyes” closer to the plane of the Milky Way galaxy than has been possible in previous studies, because that area is heavily obscured by dust.

“This covers 95 percent of the sky,” Masters said. “In the infrared, we’re less affected by the gunk in the milky way so we’re able to see down closer to the plane of the galaxy.”

(Click to enlarge.)

And yet people believe that our solar system is somehow special.

How libertarians vote