Posts tagged ‘Happy Birthday’

Happy Birthday Star Wars

Brink Lindsey reminds me it is the anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars.  I happened to be staying in Century Plaza in LA with my family on the day the movie was release, though I had never heard of it.  It was actually a pretty low-budget movie, and was only released on a few screens.  I got dumped off by my family, who was going shopping, in some theater near UCLA and Century City I can't even remember the name of.  Anyway, I and about 20 other people were in the theater that first day, partly I guess because it was daytime and mid-week.   It is the first and only movie I stayed and watched a second time.  I know this makes me a geek, but it really was a transcendent experience for me, though sadly an experienced unmatched in any of the follow-on movies.

Being one of an extremely small cadre to have seen the first one on opening day (really by accident) I felt compelled to see all the others on opening day, a cycle I completed successfully.

I would argue that for its time, against expectations of its day, the opening 30 seconds after the words stop scrolling may be the most amazing and powerful opening of a film ever (starts at about 2:00 into the clip below).  And don't miss that fine exhibition of Stormtrooper shooting at about 4:31.  Enjoy it again:

And don't miss how Star Wars should have ended.  Priceless:

And if you are not Star Wars'd out, try the Stormtrooper Training Video:

Happy Birthday Leonhard Euler

Yesterday was apparently the 300th birthday of Leonhard Euler, one of the greatest mathematicians of all time and perhaps the greatest that the average layman has never heard of. 

Euler is responsible for so much that is still important to modern mathematics it is hard to pin down his greatest achievement, but most will point to his famous equation that was sort of the unified field theory of mathematics, describing a relationship between all five of math's most important numbers:

e^{i \pi} + 1 = 0, \,\!
I learned something the other day that might be interesting to you business and finance folks out there -- the constant "e" was first described by Jacob Bernoulli when he was studying compound interest rates.

Jacob Bernoulli discovered this constant by studying a question about compound interest.

One simple example is an account that starts with $1.00 and pays
100% interest per year. If the interest is credited once, at the end of
the year, the value is $2.00; but if the interest is computed and added
twice in the year, the $1 is multiplied by 1.5 twice, yielding $1.00×1.52 = $2.25. Compounding quarterly yields $1.00×1.254 = $2.4414"¦, and compounding monthly yields $1.00×(1.0833"¦)12 = $2.613035"¦.

Bernoulli noticed that this sequence approaches a limit for more and
smaller compounding intervals. Compounding weekly yields $2.692597"¦,
while compounding daily yields $2.714567"¦, just two cents more. Using n as the number of compounding intervals, with interest of 1/n in each interval, the limit for large n is the number that came to be known as e; with continuous compounding, the account value will reach $2.7182818"¦. More generally, an account that starts at $1, and yields $(1+R) at simple interest, will yield $"‰eR with continuous compounding.

In the 20th century, we have gotten in a mind set that math is this strange discipline that lives purely out in the theoretical either.  But we forget that a lot of modern math was invented to solve real-world problems.  Newton invented calculus (yeah, I know, I haven't forgotten Liebnitz) to solve planetary motion problems, and it turns out "e" was invented to work with interest rates.

Happy Fourth of July

Happy Birthday to the greatestn nation on earth.  I spend a lot of time criticizing our leaders and their policies, but there is no place else I would live.  The US Constitution is still, over two-hundred years after its creation, the greatest single document ever written.  Many other countries since have written constitutions and spilled tons of ink pontificating on theories of government, but none have had similar success in protecting individual rights while creating an environment where every individual can focus their productive energies in whatever direction they choose with generally minimal interference.

A while back I wrote about how wealth was created, and I pointed out that the great leaps we have made in human well-being over the last two hundred or so years stem from two effects:

  1. There was a philosophical and intellectual
    change where questioning established beliefs and social patterns went
    from being heresy and unthinkable to being acceptable, and even in
    vogue.  In other words, men, at first just the elite but soon everyone,
    were urged to use their mind rather than just relying on established
  2. There were social and political changes that greatly increased
    the number of people capable of entrepreneurship.  Before this time,
    the vast vast majority of people were locked into social positions that
    allowed them no flexibility to act on a good idea, even if they had
    one.  By starting to create a large and free middle class, first in the
    Netherlands and England and then in the US, more people had the ability
    to use their mind to create new wealth.  Whereas before, perhaps 1% or
    less of any population really had the freedom to truly act on their
    ideas, after 1700 many more people began to have this freedom.
Many revisionist historians struggle to find some alternate explanation for the wealth and power the US enjoys today -- natural resources, isolation, luck, etc.  But the simple and correct explanation is that more than any other country past or present, we created a country where more people are free to use their minds and more freely pursue the implications of their ideas.

Sure, our leaders, our military, and sometimes the nation as a whole screws up.  I and others are quick to point these screw-ups out and sometimes we find ourselves wallowing in them.  But at the end of the day, unlike in the majority of countries in the world, these screw-ups are treated as such, talked about and debated, and dealt with rather than treated as the norm. 

Take the US military in an occupying role in Iraq.  Out of 100,000 or so people, you are going to have some criminals who commit criminal acts, even in the military.  The US army, unlike nearly every occupying army in history, generally treats its soldiers' crimes as crimes, and not as the inherent right of victors to rape and pillage.  US soldiers who have committed crimes in Iraq will generally go to jail, while worse malefactors in most armies, even the holier-than-thou UN peacekeepers who seem to be engaging in rape and white slavery around the world, generally go unpunished.  For all the crap the US military takes around the world, I bet you that if you took an honest vote on the question of "Which world army would you choose to occupy your country if you lost a war" most people would answer the US.  If for no other reason because, despite all the charges of imperialism, our armies eventually leave rather than remain on as lingering masters.

So tomorrow, I will start dealing out more crap to our leaders, to the administration, to Congress, to the SCOTUS, and most especially to most every bureaucrat who thinks they can better manage my business or my property.  But today I will step back and see the forest rather than the trees, and observe I am dang lucky to be an American.

For further thoughts, I refer you to .  They tend to celebrate first the "right to vote", when in fact many people get to vote but few enjoy the freedoms we do.  The greatness of our country is in our protection of individual liberties and the rule of law.  And the great insight our country was founded with is that rights flow from the very fact of our humanity -- they are not granted to us by kings or Congress.  This last is perhaps most important, as I wrote:

At the end of the day, our freedoms in this country will only last so
long as we as a nation continue to hold to the principle that our
rights as individuals are our own, and the government's job is to
protect them, not to ration them.  Without this common belief, all the
other institutions we have discussed, from voting to the rule of law to
the Constitution, can be subverted in time

Now I am off to see Buckingham Palace.  If I see the Queen, would it be in bad taste to wish her a happy Fourth of July?