In physics, one of the distinctions we draw is whether forces are conservative or not. And no, this has nothing to do with the politics of gravity – although politicians do talk too much, and incorrectly, about strong and weak force.

Today is “Star Wars Day”, largely because of a horribly weak and limp pun. But the actual important thing that may as well be discussed today is whether Star Wars the cinemas are actually science fiction or not? They are clearly SciFi but that doesn’t mean they can transcend the inanity of horror flick to be actual SF!

The standard of comparisons are the classic “Space Operas” of book fame, notably, Edward Elmer Smith’s Lensmen and Skylark series and George O. Smith’s Venus Equilateral series. So we have to ask whether the Star Wars cinemas (and stories) live up to the standards of these classics?

Now clearly they do on the fiction dimension. For space opera, characterized by troglodytic geniuses with horribly menacing alien sidekicks (or bemused capitalists, which may be more menacing?,) Star Wars quite readily satisfies the fiction requirement. Although the glorification of robots definitely fails the Dune test.

But on the science dimension, Star Wars is an abysmal failure. No where is some wonderful new technology revealed or pivotal. The Death Star is nothing more than a space going CCC project of space-going democrats with dictator envy. And “light sabers” are not only Boy Scout projects but rather tame when compared to Delameters or truly insidious weapons like duplicators or no space – no time transporters. 

This vacuity is not surprising. After all, the archetypical cinema space opera was only saved from mediocrity by the technology of an extinct race of aliens and the tender ministrations of a sociopathic linguist.


Make Religion Evil Again?

Today is Nation Religion Day here in Amerika. I am never quite sure if this means the nation’s recognition of religion in Amerika or a day advocating a national religion. I have to wonder in the latter case how long it will be before the nut brains figure out their particular sect isn’t it and start shooting.

Along which lines, I have always appreciated Lester Sprague DeCamp’s description of religious freedom as “the freedom to persecute people of a different sect than you.”

But now, courtesy of both the Yankee government and the Scalawag Alibam Guvment in Muntgum, this has been expanded to “the freedom to persecute anyone who is different from you.”

Evidently “love thy neighbor” only applies if the neighbor is an exact copy of yourself or the love is strictly carnal (and hetero?) 


Surviving Weather Men 3

A bit of nasty weather here at Castellum SCP yesterday afternoon. With all sorts of horns resounding from the weather wireless and dire pronouncements by the weather beavers on local television.

And a news reader bemoaning the discorporation of someone sitting in their motorcar when a tree fell atop it during the storms. Met with all sorts of trite condolences and told-ya-so from the Weather Beavers.

So how dire are all these weather warnings? Let’s make a bit of comparison.

In 2014 – the latest year I could get “blessed” statistics, 36K people were discorporated in traffic incidents as compared to 0.38K people discorporated by weather incidents. that’s a ratio of 94.74 Why is this ratio important? I will show you.

Off the top, we can say the motorcars (and lorries) are about 100 times (20 dB or two orders of magnitude) more lethal than weather. 

But that’s not quite a valid comparison. We drive our motorcars most days but dire weather is much sparser. We only get it occasionally. So how occasionally? Let’s say one day in ten on the average. That reduces motorcar incidents to being ten times more lethal than average. 

Now how many bad weather days one has depends on where one lives but since this is a national average what we’ve done above is fairly good. So even if weather is more lethal, it isn’t as lethal as motorcars.

That doesn’t mean that we should ignore weather. But when the weather wireless comes on to tell you of a tornado in a town 20 miles east of you and going north-east, you can safely ignore that as a potential danger. 

Surviving Weather Men 2

Let us speak of ships and sealing wax. Or more properly weather and probability. Everyone hears the probabilities from the weather beavers but they never bother to tell you what they mean by it, so it’s almost a useless thing.

What is amazing is how dumbfounding it is for nerds who know – at least intellectually – about probability and find out what weather beavers mean.

There are basically two definitions of probability: temporal and spatial.(Time and Space) 

If you stand in one spot and observe from second to second (or minute to minute….) whether that spot is sunny or shadowed and write that down, at the end of an hour or a day the fraction of time that the spot is shaded (ratio of time shaded to total time spent observing) is the probability of being shaded. That’s temporal probability.

If you run about from spot to spot and observe whether that spot is shaded or sunny, and write it down, then after you have run to many spots, the ratio of shaded spots to the total number of spots is the probability of being shaded. That’s spatial probability.

Now what about weather? Well, it’s a combination of spatial and temporal. If a weather beaver says there is (e.g.,) a 60% probability of rain then what that means is that over a day’s time and the total area of the forecast (which is usually the “viewing area” for television weather forecasts,) there are six chances out of ten of rain falling somewhere and somewhen. 

What it doesn’t mean is that there’s a 60% chance you will get rain. It doesn’t work that way. Nor does it mean that 60% of the people in the “viewing area” are going to get rain. It just means that there is a 60% chance that somewhere in the viewing area will get rain. 

It’s maths, folks, and the weather beavers figure you are incapable of understanding maths and if they try to explain it to you in a meaningful manner you will get bored and do the channel flip thing. And then they lose money. 

Incidentally, the bored thing doesn’t depend on whether you get maths or not. Because talking about maths simply bores those who don’t get maths because it’s blah blah and bores those who do get maths because what is being said is too simple. 

Surviving Weather Men 1

When the weather beaver on the local television news talks about fog, he/she really isn’t.

Fog is an atmospheric aerosol formed of water particles, usually with a dust nucleus, for which the visibility – can you see a black telephone pole against a cloud background – is one kilometer (0.6 Imperial or American miles.) 

An atmospheric aerosol formed of water particles for which the visibility is greater than one kilometer is a Haze.

You can also tell a fog by the size of the three-dimensional halo around a street lamp although this only helps if it is dark so that (a) the street lamp is lit and (b) you can see the halo. 

An ice fog is an atmospheric aerosol formed of water particles that have frozen so that technically they are ice particles. 

For some reason, weather beavers (TV meteorologists) like to call all atmospheric aerosols fog, possibly (?) because they think the technical distinctions are too complicated for their viewers. 

Human Failure

One Day. Back to gym. A rather dismal session overlain with a podcast about the rot of American (including Canadian) society.

This got reinforced as I tried to get out of the motorcar park at the gym onto the highway.

We seem to have given democracy away for consumerism capitalism.

Driving skills and abilities are almost non-existent. People cannot stay in lane, signal turns or lane changes, or even turn without occupying two or more lanes. And not just the people driving (?) pickup trucks. All manner of motorcars. They can’t even stop at a STOP sign properly.

Ignorance has replaced knowledge as the desired state of humankind. People are proud of their ignorance and insecurity and resist thought and knowledge like some sort of plague worse than Bubonic. 

Money is the only measure of esteem. 

Accomplishment has become meaningless, if not actually criminalized.

We no longer have a society, a civilization, or a nation-state. I am not sure what it is but it makes a noyau look good.

Scientists and Other People

I am not a great fan of SCIENCE (the journal;) I am a practitioner of Science. Or so I tell myself.

The former is primarily because SCIENCE (the journal) is one of the last bastions of Victorian propriety. It (arguably with NATURE) are the premiere journals of science. It is also dedicated to respectability and stodginess. SCIENCE is not where one will publish the next great thing in Physics. (The last great things were Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.) 

But occasionally they slip up and publish something strange. Such is an article [Link] entitled “When you’re the scientist in the family.” The author is apparently a biologist and he seems to have never gotten the idea that biologists do different things than physicists or chemists or geologists. 

The article is either about horror or humor, and I can’t tell which it is. I suspect both.

To give a sample, here are his major headings:

  • Playing fast and loose with the definition of a work day. 
  • Flippantly saying “do something in the lab for, like, 10 minutes” when you clearly mean “do something in the lab for an indeterminate length of time.” 
  • Easily remembering scientific facts and figures, alongside a frustrating inability to remember useful information at home.
  • Making fun things not fun. 
  • Going to graduate school. I am so, so sorry.

You’ll have to access his article (outside paywall) to see his filler. But I can respond a bit in my usual snarky muddling fashion.

I never played fast and loose with the work day. At least once I got out of graduate schule and got married. Spouses are precious and any sacrifice is never too big.

My employer always played fast and loose with the work day. FD SCP and I worked at the same place; she enumerating legumes; I doing rabbinical physics. What’s rabbinical physics? Think Einstein at the Patent Office. The physics that matters is not done at work. So during the work week I did what was needed for the employment and the rest of the time – as I was able – I did real stuff. And occasionally they actually overlapped.

Nor have I done stuff in lab since I married. That phase of my life ended with a master’s degree and the realization that I was a maximum klutz. They talk about mad scientists destroying the world. Never about klutz scientists doing so. They should. That’s the real threat. But the temporal aspect is accurate. Science knows no schedule, which is one of the reasons I became a manager so I could counteract the accountants and Sloan graduates and project managers who had been programmed that all work stayed on schedule and budget. Simply put, anything not made in a factory isn’t and sometimes more than that.

The problem with remembering home information is that it is cast as important (patently false) and it isn’t engaging. My trick was to write it down in a small (pocket) notebook and lose the notebook. Eventually I grew out of the latter. Part of the problem is also that if you’re a theoretician the lab is between your ears and inside a (bigger) notebook. So thinking crowds out the home information.

As to fun, there is no more bigger fun than figuring some twist of reality out. That’s one of the primary differences between bogs and nerds: what is fun. So in my mind this complaint is a contradiction since the two funs are immiscible.

Finally, graduate schule is a necessary evil. Yes, it’s a horrible environment that ought to be banned under the Geneva Convention.  Slavery and Abuse almost unending. But it’s the best way yet to learn how to science. And yes, it does change you mind and temperament. But if it didn’t we’d all still be shaving our heads in circles and talking to imaginary friends. As adults. 

Sometimes I think the problem is not the science nerds but all the other folks. But all it takes is one thought of FD SCP to dismiss that idea. It’s just that some folks are Bosons and some are Fermions and that’s ok until you try to mix them.