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Technological Contributions of the Canadian Space Agency April 17, 2013

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Below I’ve included a slideshow I created to discuss the various technological achievements of the Canadian space program. © 2013 James Wilson

Canadian Space Agency Technology


Visualizing Bernoulli’s Principle March 26, 2013

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© 2013 by James Wilson

While it’s conceptually inaccurate, Bernoulli’s Priniciple can be compared to an interstate highway. If the cars slow down due to traffic, they gather closer together and add more weight to the underlying roadway. The falsehood in this concept lies in the fact that the number of gas molecules don’t increase, only the number of transverse and counter-directional collisions.

© 2013 by James Wilson

Imagining the air in a room as bumper car rink, with the individual molecules of air as cars, we can see that the pressure will decrease in the lateral and obverse directions if all the cars are directed towards the same wall. The wall that the cars strike will experience an increase in pressure.



Capital punishment is alive and well, but more states are giving it the death penalty March 17, 2013

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The recent decision by the Maryland state legislature to abolish capital punishment makes Maryland the 18th U.S. State to give the death penalty its own death sentence. As of March 16th of  2013, the states which have no legal form of capital punishment are listed with the date of abolition and include: Wisconsin (1853), West Virginia (1965),  Vermont (1964), Rhode Island (1984), North Dakota (1973), New York (2007), New Mexico (2009), New Jersey (2007), Minnesota (1911), Michigan (1846), Massachusetts (1984), Maryland (2013), Maine (1887), Iowa (1965), Illinois (2011), Hawaii (1957), Connecticut (2012), and Alaska (1957)[1]. While still in the minority, these states are kept in good company by the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and a host of overseas territories. The federal government of the United States and the U.S. Armed services, on the other hand, reserve the capacity to perform executions for capital offenses.

Capital Punishment map

I know that it’s an old saw among English instructors that freshman composition classes always want to write about topics like abortion, immigration, and of course capital punishment, but I never took such a class so this is new to me. To put it bluntly, I am an opponent of capital punishment; I am also a human being. When I read about the suffering of other human beings at the hands of violent or treacherous criminals, I have the same reaction of anger, disgust, and fear that anyone else would, but I temper these base feelings with the ideals that I strive to uphold. In a not too distant conversation with my wife, she confessed that she wanted a confessed murderer and rapist to die for the crimes that he comitted. My reply was that I too can want a thing, yet still realize that wanting it is wrong.

To me, capital punishment is immoral to its core and simply a placation of our instincts toward wrath and retribution. The foremost issue that favors abolishing capital punishment is the difficulty inherent in establishing the guilt of the accused. This alone should be reason enough to abolish the death penalty, given that countless confessed criminals have later been exonerated of crimes by contradictory evidence in cases ranging from murder to rape. Guilt, grief, and the questioning tactics employed by investigators can all contribute to a person giving a false confession and legal professionals know this [2]. So, too, can faulty evidence collection and handling techniques lead to errors in analysis and false convictions. It is for these reasons that guilt can be in question despite the best efforts of everyone involved in the legal process.

Second in importance is the issue of fairness with regard to sentencing. While we idealize our justice system as a mechanical process devoid of prejudice or bias, the reality is that many things that shouldn’t contribute to the outcome of cases do play a role. This is reflected in statistically significant differences in conviction rates and sentencing for crimes based on factors ranging from income to gender, and most notoriously by race. I expect that every one of us, to the last man or woman would hope to have a jury like the one described in Twelve Angry Men were we wrongfully accused of a crime, yet juror selection frequently weeds out exactly the type of people with strong convictions, and the death qualification process significantly alters the composition of juries to include fewer minorities and women. Most damning of all,  the death qualification process also produces juries that render higher conviction rates than their unscreened counterparts[3].

While many states have abolished the death penalty based on the economic inefficiency of the appeals process, I plan to handle this summarily. Quite simply, due to the numerous procedural hurdles that have been built into the legal system to guard against both wrongful convictions and unfair trials, it is more expensive to sentence a convicted prisoner to death than to imprison him or her for life. Obviously, this is a necessary safeguard for an irreversible verdict. Yet while a hotly contested debate continues over whether capital punishment serves as a deterrent against violent crime, the cost of prosecuting capital cases diminishes the funding available for proven deterrents such as additional law enforcement personnel.

The final piece of the puzzle regarding capital punishment are the moral issues which manifest themselves. Naturally, the argument differs from person to person depending on their unique philosophy and values. To briefly explain mine, I have three objections. First, I feel that it is deeply disturbing that the state employs people for the purpose of killing other human beings who are in a state of incapacitation. This differs greatly from giving a soldier, police officer, or even a private citizen the authorization to use deadly force in protecting themselves from harm. Instead, it is a clinical and highly procedural way of ending the life of another human being who has been rendered to a state of helplessness.

Second, I feel that retribution should not be the primary goal of the justice system. Altogether, I strongly lean towards the rehabilitation of criminals over the use of punitive actions. While I understand that most persons convicted of capital crimes would otherwise never be eligible for reintroduction to society, I wonder if they can play a useful role in determining the best methods of rehabilitating less violent offenders. In other words, I am advocating using capital punishment worthy criminals as guinea pigs for rehabilitative psychology and conditioning.

Finally and most importantly, I fear that execution prevents the condemned from making progress toward redemption. Redemption has no outwardly verifiable effects, but occurs within the mind and soul of the individual. It is the act of coming to terms with one’s self and with it one’s baser instincts and vile inclinations. Christians see redemption as the bestowal of forgiveness by God, while Muslims view it as a form of surrender, and stoics think of it as a process of separating themselves from their emotional ties, but prophets, philosophers, and kings have all sought the redemption of their selves. When a person, even a guilty person, is sentenced to death and executed, where is the redemption? Of course, some traditions maintain that redemption can be conferred as with the granting of abolition by a Catholic priest, but not everyone holds this view. Instead, I feel that the remorseful and contrite should be afforded this one act of grace and granted the time they need to make peace with their inner demons without the duress of condemnation.

The fact of the matter is that the number of countries that officially sanction capital punishment has been shrinking in modern times, such that the United States finds itself increasingly isolated on this issue among its international peers. Instead, capital punishment is retained in use by countries which we would be hesistant to be associated with on any other list. As of 2011, the only countries to conduct more executions than the United States are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq [4]. Since then, Connecticut and now Maryland have banned the use of capital punishment; it will be interesting to see if countries like North Korea and Yemen will surpass the U.S. now that these states are no longer sentencing prisoners to death row.

[1] http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/states-and-without-death-penalty

[2] http://www.innocenceproject.org/understand/False-Confessions.php

[3] http://www.capitalpunishmentincontext.org/resources/deathqualification

[4] http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ACT50/001/2012/en/241a8301-05b4-41c0-bfd9-2fe72899cda4/act500012012en.pdf

Google lied for me. February 17, 2013

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In an earlier post, I mentioned that my undergraduate thesis was now listed on Google books, though not viewable or previewable or anything fancy like that. It’s interesting to note, however, that I couldn’t recall having actually written the sixty-eight pages that Google listed it as containing. Was this possible? did I somehow write a sixty-eight page manifesto? I couldn’t remember how long my actual thesis was but this seemed to me to be too much. I’ve since looked into it, however, and found that in fact my thesis is just under half that length. It was still a lot of work mind you, and I still have nightmares about for sure, but at least I didn’t sleep through writing half of it like I initially feared I might have. Still, this begs the question, why did Google lie on my behalf? Is it because they had no idea and simply offered a wild guess as to the number of pages, or perhaps a simple typo caused the discrepancy? Then again, it could be that they measured page layout by a different metric than the word file that I’ve kept during the intervening years. Maybe we’ll never know, but it’s still cool to think that something, and now several somethings I’ve written are on the internet.

Emergency services paper. February 12, 2013

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While grazing on the gentle slopes of the internet today, I found an interesting paper that published jointlyby the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council way back in ’66. Apparently, they were concerned that the risk of dying after suffering from a traumatic accident was higher virtually anywhere in the United States than it was if wounded on a foreign battlefield. The reason for this travesty? Poor quality emergency medical services. From untrained emergency responders to ill-equipped or even non-existent emergency rooms, the paper highlights the numerous inadequacies in emergency care found in mid-sixties America. The paper then goes on to address numerous ways to improve the function of emergency medical services by recommending standard practices, licensing, and equipment for emergency medical services. I’ve linked the paper below for your evaluation; fun reading.


Looking for a Career. February 7, 2013

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Over the past two Saturdays I attended a career exploration workshop. It was enlightening to say the least. Before we went, I and the other attendees were given a battery of assessments including the Meyers-Briggs, Gallup’s Strength quest and another that I can’t remember to evaluate our aptitudes and strengths as well as some areas that we might be interested in.

In the workshop, we were asked to talk a little bit about our past work experience, arrange a number of predefined values that we held and how important it was that they be reflected in our working life. Finally, we were given some suggestions for careers to pursue, as well as how to proceed in searching for such a career.

Some of the closing suggestions that I received were a little bit outside the box. I really liked the idea of being a fact-checker or a grant writer for instance, but had never considered such positions to reflect actual career goals. Meanwhile, some of the other suggestions that were made to me were promising too. I could see myself training others as part of an HR department for instance.

Bye the way, in case your wondering I came up as an INTP. Now I just need to figure out how to use that.

Thanks Scholars’ College and Google Books! February 4, 2013

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Recently, I discovered that my undergraduate thesis from the Louisiana Scholars’ College turns up on Google books. It’s not viewable or available for purchase of anything, but it’s there as a testament to my efforts years ago. Well, that’s something isn’t it? I don’t know what to make of it really. After all these years trying to leave as little of a presence on the internet as possible I’ve finally started a blog, signed back up for facebook earlier today, and begun making myself heard in one dark, tiny corner of the internet at a time, and suddenly I find that I’ve been here all along.

It’s like finding out I have a doppelganger that I didn’t know about. As a brother of two twins let me just say that’s kinda weird. In fact, before I even finalized my facebook account earlier, one of my brothers had added me as a friend and messaged me. Talk about privacy! I guess I’ll just have to get used to the idea that there’s no such thing anymore.

A link to the listing of my thesis is below:


Dabbling in Graphics January 19, 2013

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Over Christmas, I decided to dabble a little in creating graphics of my very own. Eventually, I would like to get good enough to spiff up my little corner of the internet with a wicked cool logo of a foamy rabbit sticking his head out of a top hat, but that’s probably in the distant future. For now I created a little emblem for my friends at Acquistapace’s Supermarket in Covington, Louisiana. I’ve already incorporated it into a letterhead and plan to see if they’ll consider using it. We’ll see what they think sometime in the next couple of weeks. Until then, here’s the basic image; it looks terrible here since it’s been blown up and watermarked, but you get the idea.

An Image of a bunch of grapes that I did using a couple of different programs.

An Image of a bunch of grapes that I did using a couple of different programs.


Lagniappe, Kisses, and Granny Death Grips. October 25, 2012

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Lagniappe is an interesting little word employed to describe a little something extra which a merchant offers to his customers. The word is popular in southern Louisiana and has its origins in the confluence of French and Spanish traditions. Mark Twain famously lauded the term and its execution in Life on the Mississippi, declaring that a trip to New Orleans was worth the trouble just to have such a term at one’s disposal.

When I was a cashier at World Market, I was given a number of stylish reusable bags to offer as lagniappe to customers as they checked out. That weekend, I passed them out and most of our clientele responded to this gesture gracefully: either with subdued thanks or mild appreciation.

Early Sunday, however, I found myself nearing the bottom of my last stack of these complimentary bags when a vivacious and athletic older lady approached my counter with an armful of merchandise. This was no ordinary older woman; everything from her tall, trim stature to the muscular legs revealed by her running shorts conveyed the notion that she was an athlete. Her retirement years had done nothing but provide her with more time to attain a peak physical condition that men and women half her apparent age of 60 or so could only envy. Thus when she asked me if she could have two of the aforementioned sacks to use as gift bags for her grandchildren’s birthdays I viewed her less as a sweet and venerable old granny than as a warrior; and Amazonian warriors need no favors.

With an eye towards not running out I momentarily resisted, “I’m afraid that I can’t do that Miss. I’m almost out as it is and there are bound to be people who don’t get one before the weekend is up.”

“Aww, come on,” she insisted. “I’ll give you a kiss if you give me two!”

“That’s quite alright miss,” I replied. “I just don’t want to be unfair to the other customers.”

“I may be eighty-two, but I biked fifty miles just last week, can you do that?” At this point, she reached across the counter and wrapped her fingers around the back of my neck, pulling me closer. “Come on, I said I would kiss you! I meant it.”

Had my whole body not locked up out of shock at this point, I probably would have been pulled into her waiting lips seeing as she caught me completely off-guard. Thankfully, sensing my discomfort from my startled gasp and terrified expression, she let me go.

Pulling away, I hastily agreed, “I’m sorry I didn’t know it meant so much to you, here’s another.”

“Oh thank you, I appreciate it!” And with that, she happily strolled out of the store leaving me to unsteadily serve the next, equally-shocked customer: a pretty, young woman from whom I never received such an offer.