Science from Fiction

At last! The week in restarted! Also back to gym, which was closed yesterday on the rather flimsy excuse of it being a holy day. But then they do stay open during shabbat so that heathens may use the facility. I am never quite sure which is worse, the undiscovered prejudice of humans or how they reduce each other to slavery? But then what are shabbes goyim?

The gym was nicely sparse this morning, only a few educationalists, and they the urbane ones, present. I am told today is the desessioning of shul so I can likely look forward to their absence till the peak of summer when it resessions at the optimal time for discomfort.

The podcasts today, as is the normal mode for tuesday, were science in subject. The premiere one from SCIENCE journal was pompous and blatting as usual although some of it was relieved by a report/interview about how the governments/societies of countries are tight or loose. Sadly little mention was made that this type of taxonomy has been in wide use in management ‘science’ for decades and the language of the interviewee was more appropriate for a valley girl than a professional scientist.

The other podcast, an episode of the Guardian’s science podcast, was concerned with a museum display on the relationship between astronomy and science fiction. Some of the sidebars were a bit over done but in the main the piece was quite good and mentally provocative. I was led down a bit of a memory path recalling the authors of science fiction who had the greatest influence on me and I made an attempt at a listing, albeit incomplete:

  • E. E. Smith (Lensmen and Skylark);
  • George O. Smith (Venus Equilateral);
  • H. Beam Piper (Paratime);
  • Robert A. Heinlein (everything, but especially Stranger In A Strange Land);
  • Isaac Asimov (anything and everything);
  • Poul Anderson (van Rijn and Flandry);
  • Jerry Pournelle (Mote);
  • Gordon Dickson;
  • ….

Anyone who wants to suggest additions is welcome to but they have to pass my so-what test.

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Wha We Make

I have to admit to subscribing to a few magazines – as opposed to journals. The magazines end to get read but not necessarily quickly, and they tend to get sent to the recycle bin immediately after. The journals get read, selectively by article, as quickly as possible, and almost never go to the recycle bin.

One of the magazines is WIRED, largely because they give me a hideously low subscription price and I find it a magazine that I cannot understand more than I do, so it has rather a forbidden fruit aspect. I was reading a back issue yesterday and happened on an articl that I do, at least superficially, understand. The article was Mooallem, Jon, “The Lost Tribes of RadioShack”, WIRED, May 2010, pp. 64-71, and its tenor was the demise of Radio Shack as an electronics parts emporium for the hobyist.

I was particularly taken by the statement,

“Once, we were makers. Now, most of us are users.”

And I have to consider this.

On the surface, I have no disagreement. Some months ago the Greater Metropolitan Arab Friends of the Library opened a second salvage store, this one for books that had been donated to the library. Once you got past the question of why any library would want 57 copies of some decade old bosom ripper, it was a bit of the lees of the foundry at a gold mine, a profitable place to mine nuggets of trace rarities. Among other thing I picked up a dozen back issues of Popular Mechanics from the first half decade of the ’70’s.

My intent was to mine out technology articles but what I found myself entrained about was the blatant (and subtle) indications of changes in our social weltanschaung. One of the chiefest of these was our attitudes toward make-versus-buy. This was the period of crescendo of the great American making thing hobby. This was when Radio Shack was in its glory, and Heath Kit was a social statement as much as an evening diversion. As an example, one spot product announcement was a kit for making anchor bolts for hanging framed pictures on Sheetrock.

Today, the only folks who make their own anchor bolts are those who have no access to a store, or are die hards, but in those days ordinary people made things as either a necessity or as a constructive recreation. The necessity arose from the high cost of being an early adopter. Take color televisions. In those days most televisions were still made by humans and so the cost of human labor, while not as significant as today, did still represent a significant savings. There was also an attitude, somewhat Puritan, that people should not waste their non-working time just watching television, or goofing off, or whatnot. So many of the hobbies had a constructive aspect to them.

But the question I had to ask myself is what has changed? Admittedly our society has changed somewhat but have humans really shifted from being makers to users? Consider that most humans in those thrilling days of yesteryear did not make their own tools. They went to their local hardware store, or Sears Roebuck, to purchase a hammer or a saw. They didn’t fell their own trees usually, unless it was for firewood, they went to a lumber yard and bought sawn lumber. And if they did fell their trees, they took them to a sawmill to be sawn into lumber.

So an alternate hypothesis is not that humans have quit being makers, but that what they make has changed. I had a personal experience that supports this. When I first moved into a house after the campus of the Bone Yard, I went through a spate of woodworking, building bookshelves and a few stray pieces of furniture. This phase lasted about a year. It ceased for several reasons including that I got all the stuff made I needed, but basically I quit because there was nothing more I wanted to build. Besides, I was working on dissertation research and that was definitely making even if it was writing code and generating information. And I never really went back to woodworking after I received the degree. I found other things to make.

So while the fraction of people who are not-makers may have changed, although I have no data to support this one way or the other, the hypothesis that what we now make recreationally has changed seems to have some valid substance. If so, it is not that Radio Shack is being deserted becuase folks don’t make any more, just that they don’t make what Radio Shack can help with.

And all this may be a good indication for the persistence of the species after all.

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Tornado Demogogery

I ran across an intriguing article yesterday in the RSS accumulator. It was entitled “Science can’t design away tornadoes’ deadly threat”.[Link] The question raised by the article was why hadn’t science done anything to ameliorate tornadoes? And it was a real pile of stercus tauri!

Yes, they gave credit to the Yankee government’s National Weather Service and the local television weather beavers but faulted them for inadequate precision. Merde! It is not the NWS and the local weather beavers who lack precision, it is the warning system. Here in Nawth Alibam, the resolution of the weather sirens is not a hundred meters but a fraction, if not all, of a county. Usually, if a tornado is anywhere in a county all of the sirens in the county are sounded. And a culture of apathy has been put in place because there is virtual certainty that if a siren sounds there is no tornado nearby.

So if we want to blame someone for not providing adequate warning, blame the bureaucracies of local and county government, not the scientists. Blame the local conscript fathers (and mothers) who would rather spend money on something other than a useful warning system, who make a political show of having a system that is in many ways as dangerous as none at all.

The article goes on to ignore the obvious things that science can do to ameliorate tornadoes. First, tornadoes can be dissipated, at least temporarily, by dumping a thermal explosion into the rotating storm. Yes, this requires precision but no more than we commonly use now in war, and war often produces fewer casualties than do these storms. Yes, there may be some collateral damage but it may be less than leaving the storms to wreck their way. And we shall not know until there is sponsorship of the science. No academic is going to stand up and say let us attack tornadoes with army missiles!

But there is lower hanging fruit. Buildings along the Pacific Rim have to be built to withstand a certain strength of earthquakes. Are buildings in tornado country? The answer is a resounding no! The simple fact is that science has near term answers that can ameliorate tornadoes merely by altering how we build our houses and how we string power and telephone cables. Instead of raising poles it is easy to dig cable conduits similar to those being put into commercial buildings. And houses can be designed that will withstand tornadoes of one or two sigma force. These may cost a bit more initially, and require substantial education of the building and cable trades, but if this is not worth our investment, do not blame the scientists. Blame the monied autocrats!

If we cannot mend out ways to make safer homes and safer power and telephone structures, then we need to admit that loss of property and life, especially life, is not that important to us. Cease the maudlinity and blatant emotionalism, one way of the other. But cease the misplaced sentimentality and the pillorying of science.

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Tyranny Rampant

I should elaborate that FD SCP is one of those people  who likes a bit of noise about in the house. So when she is home (and awake) she normally has the television in our den running. Yesterday was no exception and I happened to walk through when the audio-visual electromagnetic receiver program “Face The Nation” was on. Some fellow with an acromelagous jaw was declaiming that

~’people in America have a choice in the upcoming elections between bigger government and higher taxes, and the free market.’~

It was immediately evident from his tone that the former choice was that of the (modern) democrat party and that he was a scion of the (modern) republican party. But what rather tweaked my consideration was that these two choices were both unacceptable.

The difficulty is not that I am averse to the free market system. Rather, I am averse to the (modern) republican free market system of providing advantages and donatives to large corporations and smothering, by either neglect or harassment, small businesses. Simply put, I am opposed to the modern slavery of large corporations reducing the citizenry of the republic to consumer slavery.

I am also averse to the liberal social engineering that reduces these same citizens to an equally evil feudalism of taxation and social stricture.

I have commented before that political parties are the true and actual threat to the republic and this episode is one more datum of evidence of such. What I want, what I suspect a lot of the citizenry wants is small government and small business, not large government oppression and large business slavery.

The problem is that there seems no path to attaining this. The government is wired to only play with political parties. Citizens are irrelevant except as the fuel of government and business. The days of actual democracy are over and we have done ourselves in.

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Extended Weekend

OK, what would be the end of the weekend/week out except that with a monday holy day – Memorial Day – the weekend/week out gets extended a day and the work week/week in gets clipped a day.

I am less than sure that is a good thing. Back when I actually had a work week, the weekend was often too long. By that I mean that saturday was good but sunday drug too much and  had problems sleeping on sundae night so that monday morning was a real challenge. I suspect a lot of this is introversion. The extroerts tend to run about and wear themselves down in social gatherings but introverts avoid social gatherings unless there is a compelling reason – like being paid to attend.

I recall that the most disliked of the regular things I had to do was attending social functions as “part of the job”. The lunchtime Yankee army gathering to eat rubber chicken, plaster potatoes, and plastic peas, with NEVER enough salad dressing – why would the Yankee army skimp on salad dressing? – were endurable, mostly because all one had to do was pretend to eat and endure some zit-head speaker who was almost always either a general officer (or equivalent) or a political. And if the speaker turned out to not be a zit-head, which was rare, maybe once a year, then the listening was something more than not falling asleep and falling out of one’s chair onto the floor.

But what was truly and righteously unpleasant were the evening things that FD SCP had to go to and neither of us got paid to be there. And these usually required you to talk to people you didn’t want to talk to and they didn’t want to talk to you. And then you got home tired to exhaustion, too tired to sleep until you unwound, and then the next morning was an agony to get up and go to work.

And I shan’t comment on how having a monday holiday whacks everyone in management because a day has been lost and we all have to work twice as hard and run in circles to waste the rest of the week in the quest for some imaginary amount of productivity.

I have scant plans to do any social stuff tomorrow. The gym has decided to be closed so it can inconvenience those of us who need to exercise and do so early regardless of whether it is holy day or not. And this on top of their religionist igotry of being closed only on sundaes and not during shabbat.

But I plan to observe the moment of silence and think about those who have seen the elephant, perhaps more so thanthose who use the day to bun protein and socialize? Who is to differentiate?

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Nerd Book Love

The Dover Publications folks [Link] have recently started a ‘book club’ for nerds, aka the Dover Math and Science Book Club. As you might expect from Doer, this is the good kind of book club, not the wallet scalping mode of most that call themselves book clubs and offer stercus for choices n their monthly scam.

The Doer folks started as reprinters of out-of-print/furrin nerd books. I believe their first product was a reprint of Jahnke and Emde, which is a German maths handbook of great value if you are interested in things like Riemann Zeta functions. Since then they have grown to be a publisher of greater dimension, offering high quality – printing and binding – books at good price. Yes, that already sets them apart from the majority of publishers who offer poor printing, fall apart binding, and outrageous prices. From most publishers, nerd books seldom are priced less than $50 whereas at Dover it is hard to find one over $50.

The dimensions of Dover include not just the sciences, maths, and engineering, but bairn books of all manner, arts and crafts and hobbies books (of interest to FD SCP,) and lots of CDs with collections of all manner of illustrations and art. I used their old omnibus ten CD clip art set for years back when I lived all too closely with the venereal disease known as PowerPoint.

Their nerd book club requires you to register and in turn reduces prices on books to 0.8 of list, and uses all sorts of targeted marketing communication that is infinitely more dignified than either Amazing or Barnes & Ignoble. No monthly dunnage to buy or be fines. No deadlines that have already expired before the flyer got mailed out (a tactic the book industry apparently learned from the medicalists!) Just an opportunity to buy good, often classical books at an even more than fair price.

I first discovered Dover when I was a teenager learning in high shul about logarithms and then trigonometric functions. I bough a lovely little maths handbook at the appropriate level by Carmichael and Smith, Mathematical Tables and Formulas, for the princely sum of $1, It was the first book I had bought by mail order and when it arrived it was the first paperback I had ever had that was sewn rather than perfect bound (glued.) I still have the book, it shows a bit of wear and I had to patch the spine a few years ago with binding tape, but it still holds and delivers. I still buy from Dover several times a year and after American Science and Surplus, Dover is second on FD SCP’s hate list, which is a form of high praise in itself.

Back when I was called upon to abuse teach graduate students I always tried to select a Dover book as the text since they were fairly priced. I first ran across this practice when I was in graduate shul and took an advanced mechanics course under John David Jackson at the campus of the Boneyard. Sadly his electromagnetic theory book is not published by Dover, a lapse that will go uncriticized.

But what set off this mumblage was the announcement of a memorial day sale at Dover and this statement of one of the books on sale

“This classic text explores the geometry of the triangle and the circle, concentrating on extensions of Euclidean theory, and examining in detail many relatively recent theorems. 1929 edition.”

Dover is the type of book publisher who would associate a 1929 publication date with the phrase “relatively recent”.

Truly a wonderful symbiosis between nerd and publisher of nerd books.

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Weekend Extended

The week out/weekend is well entered so I need not natter vapidly about such, and the portent is that it will be long and unpleasant. The weather beavers, after piling nasty weather on the last couple of days, now foretell the wrath of global climate change in the form of aseasonally early levels of temperature.

The other aspect of the weekend is that monday is the observation of Memorial Day. This is a Yankee government engulfment of a custom known as decoration day in some quarters, which merits some discussion.

I grew up with several decoration days. The most evident, by family activity, were the decoration days of the graveyards where my parents’ relatives were interred. These days were not fixed; if the graveyard was associated with a church then the church conscript fathers would select a day for decoration of graves; if the graveyard were a commercial or civil cemetery, then either the day would be appointed by the organization’s officials or they would use the ‘official’ decoration day. The ‘official’ decoration day was a day established for the honoring of those who served during the Recent Unpleasantness and their graves were decorated and their memory respected by a moment of silence.

This was not the same as the observation of armistice day which was observed by poppies ala Flanders Field.

Given the sesquicentennial, it seems appropriate to recall the efforts of our forefathers who fought for the Union and the Old Confederacy, regardless of whether we think them gallant and honest or just deluded and evil, depending on your view of the war. I saw a PEW poll the other day that indicated a wide division in sample population opinion of why the war was fought. I am not sure it mattes now except to historians who will be ignored by those who dictate what is taught to the children in shul. If our descendants are only going to know the lies of organizations like governments then caring about reasons is a worthless endeavor. But what is not yet hidden is that this was our greatest conflict in terms of losses of humans and that makes it worthy of our study and respect.

So take a moment of silence on monday, even if it be thought asocial and criminal.

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Disaster and Disintegration

As we sit here in the boundary layer between week in and week out, or, if you will, work week and week end, which is sadly neither opposite nor symmetrical, there seem to be attention gathering articles moldering in the tabs.

First, on the heels of my brief blots this week on the aspects of tornadoes, I find an article [Link] that proclaims the idea that the stercus storm of BAD weather we are experiencing is indeed the new modality brought about by global climate change. Neglecting for the moment whether such is anthropocentric and whether American homo sapiens is mentally unbalanced in denial, the emergent indications is that we need to quit wringing our hands over “acts of deity” and put ourselves to countering the impacts. This needs be treated as an engineering problem, not a Chautauqua.  Before we have to start converting farm land to grave yards.

Next, and in the same depressing storm drain, we have word from the Yankee government FCC that Amerika is a third world nation. [Link] We have mean internet access rates (baud) that are as much as 10 dB less than much of the world. South Korea notably has rates three times the national average. And that national average is dominated by the urbologies, not the hinterland. Here in Greater Metropolitan Arab we are operating at dial-up rates. Not only are the roads becoming unpaved, but the internet is a muddy track.

On a somewhat happier azimuth, boffins in London have determined that electrons deviate from spericity [1] by something less than 1E-15. As one of my colleagues, the noted physicist Magnetic Inductance Force noted on hearing of this “english peas, not mashed potatoes.” Lest the bogs be befuddled by this foodstuff allusion, the electron is not fuzzy about the edges, and we would do well to reflect on the long standing discussion of self-energy in molecular structure.

This may be a bit of a disaster for some theorists – it places supersymmetry on rather shifting ground – but new data on the nature of reality is always encouraging that our “visualization of the cosmic all” can be improved.

I shall not repeat the comments about rubber chicken.

[1]  What is it about mediaists and weather beavers that they consistently try to describe three-dimensional tings in two-dimensional terms? We had numerous hial storms in Nawth Alibam yesterday and I found my head hurting from listening to weather beavers on the audio-visual electromagnetic receiver describing the size of the hail in terms of Yankee government coinage which is effectively two-dimensional. And now we have mediaists talking about electrons being round. Silly journalists, electrons are spherical,, pie are round.

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