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. 

Journalistic Science

Mundane day. Week in. Summer has arrived with the desessioning of schule and the disappearance (happily) of the educationalists and their loud, shrill conversations of bog blather. Are there any INTRO educationalists or have they all been driven out by the EXTROs?

Speaking of which, what is the worst sort of Fruit Fanboy? The kind who pretends not to be. I ran across such in this article, [Link} extoling how “scientists use MACs”.

Really? Not to my experience. But then, I’m a physicist, which is sorta a scientist, who used to design missiles (one up from rocket science?) and served as a laboratory chief IT manager. (Cats are easy, try engineers who all want to be different and ignore the rules.) The Yankee army of occupation said these folks had to use Winders boxes. What OS did they want to use? LINUX.

I found out that I did too but had to wait for retirement and out from under the velvet thumb. Sorta.

I have used all three OS: Winders, OSX, Linux. And the choice, in my mind, is easy. Linux is best. Mostly because it doesn’t reduce the user to a chattel.

But I have the freedom to choose. In the main, people associated with big organizations have to use whatever the organization wants them to. Unless they can show they can’t do their work with that choice.

That mostly means Winders. It’s cheaper, at least if you invest in the MegaHard management model and can’t afford to get out. Venus Fly Trap. Quicksand.

Nowadays there are some Linux shops. Not many, but the number is growing. It’s really cheaper. Especially if you have a computate workforce. Which takes in most nerds. Not all. The artsy fartsy ones still want Apples. It’s a religion thing. The good side is they don’t cut off heads. Unlike too many religions.

And I know that the control OS at CERN is Linux. Seen the screens. Hard to mistake an Ubuntu logo for a MAC. Except by fanboys?

And by the way, since when does NASA run CERN? Or is this some tin foil hat thing we don’t know about?

Anyway, that’s enough. Just quit trying to feed us stercus.

Sorry Physics

Ice Cream day. Still indisposed. Slow retirement of the indisposition and I fear I have about run the course of the exponential decay part of the curve and am now in the linear part, which is slower.

I have been amused observing the same maths behavior in the healing of humal hurts and the relaxation of molecular excitations. Especially since I did some of the work on the latter. Back in my graduate schule days, when I had adult supervision over the physics. Now I just have adult supervision over the not-physics.

Speaking of physics, I noted an article [Link] reporting the submission of an article (to Phys Rev Letters) with 5K authors. And yes, it is an elementary particles/standard model paper. I think the most authors on any paper I was part of was four, maybe five. I am too lazy to go look. 

We have to recognize here that this is a matter of who did the research work and not who wrote the paper. So strictly, this isn’t about authorship although we use that name. 

I have to admit that it is hard to write a paper with someone else. Very hard. And the paper is never as good as if I wrote the whole thing. And never as good as it would have been if I had rewritten it a year or five later. 

So excellence is a bit of a moot point.

I suppose I rather sorrow for those five thousand. How can they have any sense of accomplishment? I know that sounds like ego talking but there is also a bit of expression of work satisfaction. 

I am not proud of much of the work I did in my career. Most of it was bureaucratic Yankee Army work. Necessary to placate some policy or law or regulation. A cost of survival, as it were. But there are bits that rose above this that were worthwhile. And none of them done with five thousand other people. 

I suppose it’s like murder (with apologies to Agatha Christie.) If enough people murder someone, no one gets blamed/punished. If enough people get their name on a paper, no one gets credit, just mention. 

I’m glad that there are people who can work under these conditions otherwise some branches of physics would dry up and blow away. But I still sorrow for them. 

OGG fellows

The evil of winer is descended again. A murrain upon all political denialists.

Which puts me in mind of a podcast episode of Ubuntu UK on Thursday. I have dismissed Ubuntu from all but my least used boxes, most of whom predate PAE and hence are of shaky liklihood of being updated, but I listen to this podcast because it is well done – despite the be damned absence of the Wing Commander . Which raises the question once more of why do the English do podcasts so much better than Americans?

Anyway, the episode was blathering a bit about the lack of diversity at their latest OGG camp. Too few women and people-of-colour (as they put the category.) If you don’t know what OGG is, go look it up. Not my trajectory this morning. And since the purpose of such gatherings is exchange of information (Bogs would say knowledge,) and attendance is ope to anyone including Qadgop, why are they maundering?

But after thinking on this I came to once more consider the nonsense of some of our social/governmental taxonomies. Take RACE for instance. I dug out an old American Scientist book review [Link] that made the statement:

The consensus among Western researchers today is that human races are sociocultural constructs. Still, the concept of human race as an objective biological reality persists in science and in society. It is high time that policy makers, educators and those in the medical-industrial complex rid themselves of the misconception of race as type or as genetic population.

which I translate into nerd-speak as "race is stercus tauri."

In fact, it seems, based on observation that the current taxonomy of race is an artifact of government )organization) control of citizens (members.) That is, it may be meaningless but it is going to be used to maintain the order and control government/organization wants. This is abetted by those who receive positive differential preferment courtesy of the taxonomy. But it sure ain’t nerdish nor scientifical.

It occurs that a more meaningful system would be based on substantive (and actual rather than invented) differences among people. Reproductive plumbing seems to be one such; the refereed literature has become moderately populated in recent years with articles experimentally establishing differences between men and women that are not the tales of patriarchs and toadies. It is also increasingly indicated that superficialities such as skin tint and eyelid shape are of no more than moderate relevance, if that. More useful and relevant ones may include adult secretion (or not) of lactase, early versus late rising, INTRO versus EXTRO, ….

The further we go with this, the closer we draw to questions dealing with societies and their differences. Fundamental questions still remain here. Admittedly a cannibal has a different view of reality than a vegetarian but should diversity encompass the right of the former to consume the latter. Or of the latter to starve the former? If we are going to take a scientifical approach to this should not the metric of diversity be functional? How effective are particular diversities? Of course this defers how we assure ourselves the metrics are objective and objectively measured, but there seems little merit to a diversity for its own sake, especially if it is ineffective or even destructive.

And I don’t care who comes to OGG camp so long as I get to make my own decision to attend or not. Losing sight of that side of the matter is a short path to Tartarus.