Singularity as Stone

Five Day. Counting down until I can visit specialist and see how big the pain (and money) bill will be for this illness. Assuming, of course, that it can be accurately diagnosed and treated. 

Other than that, a day of waiting looms, as much for the coming arrival of the dread Polar Vortex raid as for the trip to the midicalist singularity. No gym this morning so I was able to eke by with a bit of pedaling and some reading. Much easier to concentrate when one is doing boring things. Like exercise,

On which azimuths, the BIG Physics guys have announced their “discovery” – detection seems more accurate – of gravitational waves.[Link] I am uncertain since the waves were predicted by the second Great Isaac – Einstein – something like a century ago. I am fuzzy on this, general relativity course was a bit too intensive to permit any deep learning, but I suspect it’s a combination of a mental itch and a way the equations could be manipulated. Regardless, this is another case of theory being confirmed by experiment and observation. Mostly observation. Astrophysicists don’t really do experiments. Beyond our technology level. 

Over the years there have been numerous attempts to observe gravitational waves, the first, so far as I know, by Joseph Weber at the University of Maryland (?) [Link]

Weber’s approach was to take jolly big cylinders of metal, put detectors on them and look for effects of coupling of the waves with the BIG cylinder. Then he did all sorts of what we now call data mining on the observations. Around 1970 he announced that he thought he had detected gravitational waves.

One of my colleagues, Magnetic Inductance Force, commented on the aftermath of this yesterday on the Facescroll and was kind enough to share an extended version with me:

Back in 1971 – I think – Joseph Weber gave a seminar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign physics department on his detection of gravitational waves. I was working on a graduate degree in chemical physics and knew little about gravitational waves and had little interest. But I could sense this was a moment to watch some physics in the making and so I attended

The seminar room, usually a hall that could handle a hundred, was a pit auditorium normally used to freshman service courses, and full. I nabbed one of the last available seats – still a half-hour shy of start time – and avoided having to stand in the clouds on sit on the steps. Weber came out, a bit of a stereotype of a bushy-haired scientist and gave his presentation. Only a few questions were broached and things seemed to be rather too pat.Then the Q&A began.

Several grating questions were asked and immediately fielded by Weber with nods of agreement and approval from the questioners. Then John Bardeen spoke up and the room hushed. He asked a question and Weber answered. Another question. Another answer. Bardeen became a bit intense, seemingly finding a trail of ill scent. But Weber kept coming back with what seemed good answers. Obviously he had trod this ground thoroughly before.

All of a sudden the atmosphere became more active. Q&A turned into a discussion between Bardeen and Weber with a thousand eves-droppers. It continued for a half-hours or so with no conclusion. Bardeen was still unsatisfied and Weber had not admitted any shortcoming. 

I left that seminar a different person. That interaction between Bardeen and Weber had been metamorphosing to me. I thought on the things said and heard for weeks, chewing on them mentally and with readings. In retrospect I learned more physics that afternoon than during the rest of the year. And almost didn’t go to the seminar.

Weber was eventually determined to be wrong and basically pilloried. That happens. Science is a cold mistress. Bardeen was already a laureate for inventing the transistor and went on to secure a second for his work on superconductivity.  

Weber’s effort, nor any of the others, ever had any real doubt of the existence of gravitational waves. Their failure was one of technology, not physics. And finally the technology has gotten there. This is, at best, another anti-climactic confirmation akin to the Higgs.

Fog of Science

Thor’s Day and done with gym for the week. Podcast yuh. Why can’t these podcasters be consistent in their durations. I have needs for short and long but it is horribly frustrating when one plans on a duration and it is significantly different. Rather seems deceptive and cheating in a way.

A bit of fawg this morning. Just barely. The halos around the street lamps are not very large. So not much optical depth of the scattering gender.

Yesterday was a bit of a cropper. Supposed to be a nasty snow/ice day. Rain instead. Overcast. Chilling more than colding although I stayed uncomfortably chilled all day. 

Did run across this cartoon: [Link]

which rather brightened my day. Illustrates all sorts of things. The difference between bogs and nerds, for one. Of course, science doesn’t give answers, Science is about understanding and understanding is never complete, nor finished. So what science provides is at least partly wrong but dedicated to getting better.

Everything Else, of course, says it’s right from the get go, so its wrongness is that of prevarication, delusion, and denial. 

I also had to chew a bit, mentally, on the complex. There are complex phenomena, although complex has a rather exact maths meaning which is different from complicated. Which is what I was trying to determine, if the cartoonist meant complicated. I finally decided to accept the term because science does incorporate complexity and thereby becomes complex, or emergent, itself. In fact, emergence is a good model of science.

In which case, the only problem is the metaphor of dropping off the cliff. In reality, those folks don;t drop off the cliff. They become ignorance, superstition zombies and become a nasty nuisance sort of survival threat. Sadly, reality isn;t as simple as the cartoon.

But we can wish it were.

Heat Mumblage

I do hate winter. To be fair, I also hate summer, but not quite in the same way. What is common however, is that I feel both are killing me.

Mundane Day. Twenty-two degF a few minutes ago according to both my external sensor and the Arab weather station. And supposed to be even less in the morning.

Went to gym despite. Sparse. No educationalists and only one weight bouncer. The majority ORF. Podcast was an episode of the CBC’s “Best of Ideas” about apology. Too long, information density too low. Very EXTRO, more so than usual. Not that INTROs don’t apologize. In fact, INTROs apologize more than EXTROs. Probably because we understand it better? 

I did get reminded of what a politicians promises and apologies have in common. Both are lies. But at least the apologies have the benefit of inconveniencing them and making them uncomfortable. Even if they are lies and unmeant. 

I ran across a cartoon: [Link]

and it struck all kinds of thought. First was the rather nasty use of the word “cool” I ran to dictionary to assure myself:

Cool 1. Moderately cold; between warm and cold; lacking in warmth;      producing or promoting coolness.      [1913 Webster]   2. Not ardent, warm, fond, or passionate; not hasty;      deliberate; exercising self-control; self-possessed;      dispassionate; indifferent; as, a cool lover; a cool      debater.      [1913 Webster]

Since cold and warm are both subjective, non-thermodynamic terms and thereby cool is subjective as well, it seems rather a disparagement of Maxwell. I suspect however, it is an indication of the cartoonist’s BOGgery. The misuse of cool however, is necessary for the rather strained humor, so if we accept the common – inaccurate – use of cool as a measure of heat, the matter is not without a groan or so.

So far as I can tell the term “nerd” was not in use in Maxwell’s day, so that association of cool and nerd and Maxwell is miscarried.

What is actually humorous but missed by the cartoonist (?) is that nerds do often get inspiration from bogs. It isn;t intention, just that the modal inane, irrational behavior of bogs strikes cords that lead to epiphany and insight. Irrationality -> Rationality, if you will.

Which gives us a (rare) example of the value of bogs to the species.

Space Museum

The other day I ran across this cartoon: [Link]

that brought back my own childhood growing up in Huntsville. In the early days the closest we had to a space museum were missiles on display downtown on the square during celebratory parade events, and a solitary rocket and a blocky above-ground fallout shelter just outside the airport. Since my father often was off on TDY I saw the latter a lot more than the former which were avoided as too unpleasant and crowded. 

As I entered adolescence, the NASA folks had a building on the boundary between NASA and Army on Redstone Arsenal where they showed off all manner of hardware and had a field full of rockets and missiles in front. It was a block or so from the Redstone Scientific Information Center, easily the best library in Amerika.

There was little education at the museum. You had to get information on your own or suffer the maskarovka of the schule system. Once you had strolled and twisted your neck among the rockets and missiles they were forever etched in your visual memory. There was some turn-over inside especially with stuff that NASA had finished doing development of. I recall that for several years the most popular thing in the museum was a steel plate with welded guard rails and four air bearings underneath. The thing was kept in a walled box about twice its area and it had a momentary ON switch to power the bearings. You stood on the plate, closed the switch and vibrated around the box on a cushion of air. Very noisy, mostly because of the compressor but always with a line of kids waiting (and arguing) to use the device.

It didn’t survive the transition to Space and Rocket Center. Too dangerous. Another example of how we lie to our children, I suppose?

I also used to live near the Space and Rocket Museum. It was supposed to open as a storm shelter during foul weather, but never did. They just put a guy out front who yelled “Full Up” though the rain. I would take out-of-town relatives there but it was so boring and dull that it was not a place for one who really did rocket science.

Skientifik Amerikan

Fifth day. Still too hot. Tolerable at park but no breeze except my own motion. A pox on climate denialist politicians.

Speaking of poxes, I watched the network episode of “Big Bang Theory” last night. This was the episode where Scientific American writes a blurb about the theory postulated by the experimentalist and developed by the theoretician. I would say Mutt and Jeff except I can’t recall which is which. Anyway, short one thinks, tall one yammers. 

The basis of the episode was that Scientific American only mentions the theoretician by name causing all sorts of inadequacy and emotion, which are always funny when dealing with nerds. In fact the whole episode was an EMO extravaganza.

As is usual BBT is NOT about physics but about geekery, but what struck me is what an indictment of Scientific American this episode was. SA prides itself on being the oldest (think Edison era) and premiere science outreach periodical in America, And they don’t have the journalistic standards and integrity to even get the names right? 

Ayeh. big indictment. Skientifik Amerikan. 

I have to admit to a love hate relationship with SA. Back in my college days it was a good rag and served me well in learning stuff outside my fields or in getting up on the look and feel of some new area in my fields. But then it got steadily worse and orthogonal and I spurned it. Recently – a couple of years ago – I gave it another try. It’s better but not up to my college experience. And it’s way not as good as Science News. Different undertaking. SN is a news rag, SA is a new science rag. 

But that they have shitty journalism slashed on national television is not to their favor. 

Amateurs versus Nerds on Writing

Ice Cream day. And falling (as opposed to scattering) dihydrogen oxide being absent I assayed the park for a constitutional, which was essentially at my wanted, model rate. I was also able to listen to an episode (partial) of “The Pen Addict” [Link] where they were discussing made-to-order pens in terms of some pros and cons that I found inadequate. Hence this morning’s commentary.

The downside of special made pens are twofold. First, if it doesn’t work right, it never will so all is wasted. Hence there is a significant probability of not only wasted monies but crushed expectations. Not as badly as a child who becomes a justicer or used car salesman but close. The second is that if it works and works well it will be a great disappointment in future when you discover it cannot be replaced and when it dies, as everything except perhaps protons must, you have lost a valuable part of your existence. Rather like having a child discorporate before you. So getting a special made pen is rather a bigger gamble than the podcast protagonists indicate.

This consideration also led me to consider – again – the nature of NERD STEM writing. Writing is, and continues to be, a crucial and fundamental part of my daily activity. It is that way for most of my colleagues. And there are some characteristics that I have noted. 

  • Those who write as part of their professional activity eschew ballpoint pens.
  • Most use some sort of gel or roller ball pen but the truly serious use fountain pens and almost all of those eschew cartridges for bottle.
  • Pen appearance is the least important feature; comfort of writing, ease of mindlessness, and inking are crucial. 
  • Quality of pen is important, as measured by longevity and reliability. The ideal pen should last a lifetime. 
  • Ink is selected primarily for its mechanics – flow, cleaning – and optical contrast. Brightly colored inks are almost only used for grading student papers, not for serious writing.
  • Notebooks are gauged on how well they take writing with the preferred pen (or pencil in a few cases.) 
  • Serious writing is first done by hand and then transferred to computer. Some write complete manuscripts, others outlines only, before transferring and some delegate the transfer to students or staff (if trusted.) 

Probably more but I am sagging. Selah.