The tide is turning

One of the initial “problems” following my TBI was separating symptoms. It seems odd to me, although many things seem odd to me, that my doctors appeared to be dodging responsibility, blaming various symptoms as resulting from a condition in which they did not specialize. “Oh you’ll need to see a (insert specialty) about that” was a shared mantra; was it the MS, or the TBI, or maybe something else? As I zeroed in on the diagnosis of SCDS, I found another area of overlapping symptoms. As I heal from that surgery, I find many of my TBI/MS symptoms relieved at least in part. Much of the brain fog has lifted, I am able to focus and organize thoughts better. My neuropsychologist discharged me from therapy the other day, satisfied that although my recovery is not complete, I have the necessary tools and coping skills to move forward on my own, I am capable of self evaluation.

As I considered the topic I will be writing about this time, it occurred to me that this may turn out more in the style of some of my earlier writing, a variety of events tied by synchronicity. It may end up appearing as the ramblings of a damaged brain, or it may be clear enough to communicate a hidden reality.

I want to start with the “March for Science” held this year on 22 April, at various sites around the globe. I wrote about the march previously, it had appeared to have lost a true science base, appealing to populists who talk about science without understanding it. Nonetheless, it appears some scientists did not care they were being represented by a steampunk contingent and a celebrity with a bachelors degree in engineering, or perhaps they were reacting to the farcical world in which anybody can call themselves a scientist. A group (thirty thousand) of scientists spoke out about global warming. They stated global warming is a hoax. A non-scientist friend disagreed, and presented the following graph.

 

Misrepresentation of CO2 levels

 

As someone with the dignity and respect for scientists not to call myself a scientist, I point out the features of this graph. The graph is properly indexed, with the first eight hundred thousand years of data identified as coming from ice cores. The last sixty years of data were drawn from another source, an observatory atop a volcano. The graph indicates a series of cycles, each roughly one hundred thousand years, in which the level of CO2 rises and falls. At the point the ice core samples revealed the latest peak, the data source changes to Mauna Loa observatory, which indicate higher levels of CO2 than had ever been recorded in an ice core.

There is no indication of the data from Muana Loa previously (largely because the data was not being collected), we have no idea how the measurements made there compare to samples from ice cores. All we know is in the last sixty years the levels from the Muana Loa data have been exponentially higher than any ice core sample.

We also do not know how this might suggest global warming, as actual temperature data from the last twenty years have shown steady  global temperatures. While there is a debate as to whether CO2 is a warming or cooling effect on the globe, the cyclic patterns which took place for six hundred thousand years before there was a species identified as remotely human would indicate humans had nothing to do with those CO2 levels. As those levels in Mauna Loa’s data peaked over the last one third of their data, actual temperatures have remained stable. But it is a shocking graph, until you read it.

When I was twenty, I drove an ice cream truck, for a company called Tropical Ice Cream. In one of the neighborhoods in my territory lived a man who owned his own ice cream truck, and was not a friendly competitor. One day a little boy was among the crowd at the window, and he said “Tropical Ice Cream is bad, they gave me wrong change.” Not recognizing the child, I asked him why he said that. “Bill (the other ice cream truck driver) told me.” Some folks just repeat what they have heard, without considering the facts. I’m sure the AGW fanatics will continue to argue about science with actual scientists, after all, they heard it from Bill Nye the science guy.

Another science based theme which has been pushed since the March for Science is the anti-vaccination cult. It took the British medical journal, The Lancet, nearly twelve years to retract Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 paper suggesting a link between childhood vaccines and autism, as “utterly false.” His license to practice was revoked six months later. But the anti-vaccination crowd will hear nothing of it, continuing to insist on various reasons vaccines must cause autism without any data to back their claims.

This attack on science is more direct. Rather than falsely claiming to be backed by science, the anti-vaccination crowd contends the scientists who have failed to find any data connecting vaccines and autism are corrupt, paid off by pharmaceutical companies. When it comes to anything even resembling facts in the matter, they are misunderstood or misconstrued. Nonetheless, the anti-vaccination front was represented at the March for Science. Of the many reasons I did not participate in the march, this hypocrisy is the epitome.

Science is designed to be challenged. It is designed to be challenged by other scientists, not celebrities and laymen. It will always be misconstrued or denied for political reasons, it took the Vatican three hundred and fifty years to apologize to Galileo. This year, after an election that highlighted false news, a populist March actually revealed truths; not from the lips of the marchers, but from the scientists to whom the marchers claimed the desire to provide a voice. Many of the marchers are like that little boy next to the ice cream truck, repeating what they heard. They tend to passionately defend the beliefs they have been told they hold, but the scientists are standing up, and their response has been “That is not what we said, that is not science.”

The tide is turning. It may require another three hundred and fifty years, but eventually science will be respected again.

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Ten days out

This is me on 12 April 2017, two days after surgery, when my compression bandage was removed.

12 April 2017, bandage removed

It looks severe, and I guess it is, but it wasn’t painful. I’m told I received IV steroids during the procedure, which were supposed to make me feel better. My experiences with IV steroids in the past are radically different, they literally sucked the life out of me when I received them for multiple sclerosis, but I did indeed feel better when I left the hospital this time.

I felt too good in fact. I am supposed to limit myself, some limitations are obvious such as avoiding loud noise (no concerts for two months); some are less obvious, aimed at reducing cranial pressure. I can’t bend over to the point my head is below my heart, I can’t lift more than three kilos, I’m supposed to sleep at a 45 degree angle. I took a lot of scolding to settle myself down.

My symptoms are gone, no bone conduction sounds, no autophony, no pressure in my ear. I’m also less aware of my cognitive deficits, which I knew was a possibility but intend to withhold judgement for a month or two.  I do suddenly have tinnitus (out of curiosity I checked the frequency, ~3000 hertz), but that is an expected post surgery symptom which should resolve itself within a few weeks. My balance is a bit worse, so I’m using a wheelchair for the time being. It is fun, but a bit tiring. I can turn and spin as if I’ve been doing it forever, which should be good news; no dizziness or motion sickness. It has pointed out my only post surgery pain, the point on my left hand in which a catheter was inserted to measure blood pressure. The other catheter, made famous by my friend Barry Parham in his book “Why I Hate Straws,” was just a weird sensation, and I had to eat through straws the first two days.

As days go by there are differences. Not always pleasant but there is no indication they are permanent. The hearing is returning to my right ear incrementally. At first, higher tones came through as if they were transmitted by kazoo, scratchy and fuzzy like the teacher character in Charlie Brown. Today they sound more like whistles. I yawned for the first time about four days post surgery, which was a good sign, I could open my mouth fully, and I was tired. I’ve been sleeping a great deal, probably more than after the brain injury, but back then I couldn’t move much so perhaps I was resting more then. Opening my mouth meant I could try more foods, we found a new Mexican place one night that had wonderful food and great margaritas, ranging up to thirty two ounces. I ordered a smaller one but asked the waitress if I could see the thirty two ounce glass, it was a small fishbowl. I’ll have to visit again when I am fully recovered, they carry my favorite tequila.

We’ve been discussing the question, “Was it brain surgery or ear surgery?” in my SCDS support group. A little of both. The brain needs to be moved out of the way, so even though an otolaryngologist does the diagnosis and sometimes the ear part of the surgery, a neurosurgeon must be part of the team to handle the brain; or in my case, a neurotologist (with a T), which is a new specialty, who handles both parts. The condition of Superior Canal Dehiscence was only identified in 1995, it only affects about one percent of the population, and not everyone requires surgery, so it is rare to find a neurotologist, or even a neurosurgeon/otolaryngologist team, who can properly treat the condition. Some people I have spoken with went a dozen years or more seeking a diagnosis, as most otolaryngologists don’t recognize the condition. It took me four doctors, the second one made the diagnosis and referred me to a team I could not trust, so my fourth happened to be a neurotologist who had just transferred to my hospital from Portland. Perfect timing, his schedule is already filled. I saw him first on 15 March, already had the cat-scan which showed the hole, he said he had 10 April available for surgery so we did the audiograms and VEMP testing the next week. Other folks I have spoken with, searching years and finally getting a diagnosis, were depressed. The surgery is scary, I felt a bit of fear, but nothing was going to stand in the way of a solution.

There was more stress in the intervening weeks than I am accustomed to these days, my landlord lost all vestige of civility and kicked me out of the home where I have lived for four years, and the anesthesiology department demanded a full echo cardiogram a week before surgery because the EKG showed “minimal voltage LVH, may be within normal parameters,” which was difficult to schedule because in their request to my insurance they said “routine health examination” rather than “pre-surgical requirement.” We found a place to stay, moved, and laughed with the echocardiagram technician about healthy my heart is. Plus, just watching the echocardiogram was fascinating. The drain pipe in our new place broke about a week before surgerythe plumber came in while I was in the hospital. Even good news, like my father wanting to come out, caused a little stress because I knew I would be out of it most of the time he was here. At least he was able to see my oldest son while he was here.

My father as I regained consciousness

Sam did a wonderful job of preparation, stocking up on soups and broths and creating healthy food I could ingest through a straw, I was just able to eat solids too fast. She was able to have her father over the night I came home, so he met my father. She scolded me into slowing down, along with members of the SCDS group and some of my friends (special thanks to Vince Coviello, who put it bluntly, “Recovery is not supposed to be exciting. Just suck it up and listen to the Docs!”). Sam made sure the place we live is level, reducing the chance of falls, and has been of constant assistance. I’m going to need to do some exceptionally special things for her when I am fully recovered.

I am getting better. The overlap of symptoms with TBI and MS made me wonder what would change; I am pleased so far and have no doubts about future improvement.

 

Blinded by Science

 

I have something of a love/hate relationship with “Science.” My father would be considered a scientist today, he has a degree in chemistry, and actually worked as a chemist for a few years before applying his degree towards the sale of devices to measure chemical processes. This is the “Science” I grew to love, every evening there was likely to be at least one discussion about science and its applications, they might relate to the preparation of dinner, the PH balance of the pool, the earthquake we experienced the night before, the latest gas chromatograph or liquid scintillation counter his company had produced or the most recent space launch. I remember being yelled at about a few projects I had devised with my chemistry set, a part of me chuckled when he would say “Don’t you realize what could happen” because I did, that was the purpose of the project. Back then, a scientist performed research.

Science made sense. It was rational. It didn’t care how you felt about it.

As an adolescent, “Science” became popular with society. Quotation marks science, just the word, not the method. With total disregard for the scientific method, the word “science” was bandied about as if it were some deity. In many cases, it was, as people made thoroughly misinformed statements about a conflict between God and Science. This is where my hatred was formed. An individual who understands neither God nor Science claims they are in conflict. Were it one person the data would be anecdotal, but it was common. This is the beauty of science, you can reproduce the experiment yourself. Ask a dozen atheists about a conflict between science and God, they will demonstrate an ignorance of both, regardless of the God in question. Well, perhaps not in the case of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but any religion based on historical texts. The most frequent error is assuming a religious text is a science book, then pointing out differences in language. Assuming every follower of a religion interprets the texts precisely in the way the atheist interprets what he’s heard about it is also quite common.

As common meanings continued to be discarded, everyone became a scientist. Typically the credentials these scientists hold is having read an article about an interpretation of an abstract. In an impending “Scientists March on Washington” everyone is included in the name of diversity, it’s not even being called a “Scientists March” anymore, within days it became “The March for Science.” It was no longer about science, it was about “Science” advocacy, which means whatever you want it to mean. I received this message before dropping out:

“We are taking seriously the many important criticisms regarding (lack of) diversity on social media stating that for this march to be meaningful, we must centralize diversity of the march’s organizers (both in leadership positions and at all levels of planning), speakers, and issues addressed as a principal objective for the march. We hear you, we thank you for your criticism. In the March for Science, we are committed to centralizing, highlighting, standing in solidarity with, and acting as accomplices with African American, Latinx, API, indigenous, Muslim, Jewish, women, people with disabilities, poor, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans, non-binary, agender, and intersex scientists and science advocates.

-March for Science Diversity Team”

I’m not quite sure what “Centralized Diversity” is, I had heard enough doublespeak to know better than to pose a question. Which is, of course, the reason for throwing around the word “science.” To silence opposing viewpoints. To enhance the self described “intelligence” of the speaker. No doubt it works with large groups of people. You have heard someone say about anthropogenic global warming “The science is settled.” Science is never settled. Anyone who tells you it is does not understand the scientific method. Science is about excellence, not diversity. You do not know who George Washington Carver was because of the color of his skin, or Marie Curie because of her gender.You know them because they performed revolutionary experiments, verified their results, and then communicated the reproducible results.

So it is a Brave New World. I’m thinking it’s more of an Animal Farm, the porcine population seems unusually prominent. I am fortunate in that part of my therapy is recognizing things won’t be like they used to be,  but it is supposed to be me that is different.

We made such complicated things look so simple, we forgot how hard it was to get here. Everyone was not just equally important, they were special. Everyone might be unique, but they cannot be special, superior to each other, and still equal. The next step is even more bizarre, everyone else is stupid. I’m not sure how these folks celebrate diversity when they truly believe people who do not share their views are not just misinformed, they are mentally deficient. This would give me a headache even if I didn’t already have a brain injury. The generalities and exclusive inclusion suggests a logic most often found in asylums.

You will see a March for Science, they’ve already ordered merchandise for the selfie crowd. Suggested speakers include Alan Alda, whose television commercial mocking actors as doctors should be force fed to the organizers of the march a la “A Clockwork Orange.” Other pop-science advocates have been suggested, Bill Nye and Richard Dawkins among them, and Neil deGrasse Tyson surely won’t miss an opportunity to be on camera. Sir Magnus Pyke would have been excellent, but as an actual scientist I suspect he would have declined. What you will not see is a march of people who are scientists, or have any idea of the components of the scientific method. It will be a March for Obfuscation, quite the opposite of the original intent.

I had hoped, out of naivete, to actually advocate for Science, perhaps help lead people to an understanding of why the method has been revered since the seventeenth century. Perhaps the realization that we have arrived at the tower of Babel is the most depressing thing I have learned in all of this.

 

 

2013-updated_scientific-method-steps_v6_noheader

Here’s the right way to do it partners!

The cover of a book

Let us get this out of the way from the beginning. I prefer that my cover tells nothing about the contents. You may assign that trait to any part of my development, then think about it again. I prefer my cover tells nothing about the contents. What you think about the cover is what I find interesting. After you discover the contents your reaction is the very best part. One friend said “It’s not what you think, it’s never what you think.” That said this article is inspired by a shotgun blast of reality today.

I’m fairly complex, as I suspect many people are. I cannot be judged at first glance, so I try not to judge others by the first glance. Nonetheless, many people do. I was talking to a friend today who had made a career choice based on his appearance. He had wanted to be an interpreter of American Sign Language, but he has a less than “usual” appearance, tattoos, ear gauges, that sort of thing. Although Smith has all the qualifications, and the hearing impaired community has few prejudices, the interpreters guild is much more conservative. The guild would have problems with his appearance, but his other career choice would not. The losers? Those of us who need an interpreter for American Sign Language.

My outward appearance has varied, I rather enjoy it when I am not recognized, I’ve even had people tell me stories about myself, not realizing who they were talking to. That is so much better than finding people who only judge the cover, recognizing you are listening to someone who didn’t even get a good look at the cover.

Smith recognized me today, I haven’t seen him in four years, back then I had long hair and was walking with a cane, I wore a nice (not to brag, but $100) tie every day tied with a perfect Full Windsor knot. Today I was far more casual, short hair and a sweater with jeans, walking fine in my Doc Marten’s, beret pulled back to my left. He wasn’t expecting me, but when he saw me he came out from the kitchen and hugged me. I haven’t been touched that deeply in awhile.

He made me a lovely brunch, the atmosphere was very comfortable, relaxed, it suited us both. I invited him and his bride to visit, I love to cook for guests and they really should get out of the city occasionally. Smith hadn’t even seen a tumbleweed in Ft. Worth, but you can see his soul is in tune with the universe. Don’t over think that.

I come home and find as I scan the news sources that racial tensions are at an all time high. Excuse me? How did that happen? How many divisions do we need to create? When do we get to the point of accepting at the most basic level, what makes us the same is the way each and every one of us is different?

I asked Smith’s advice about a piercing, so while I was near South Street I stopped at Infinite Body Piercings. It isn’t a huge community, my first body piercing was done at Infinite. I had a piercing in which I wanted to wear a piece of jewelry that had belonged to Emma. I had taken her ring out, and the hole had shrunk. I started the process of widening the hole, I’ll have her ring in by New Year’s Day. But it’s not like anyone could see it. I have a tattoo, same story. If those decorations were more conspicuous they would be more offensive, why? They would be on parts of my body which by every definition are less intimate.

Kurt Vonnegut had said “Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.” I pretend to be happy, it usually works. Popeye said “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am.” I am in control, I am confident.

Who cares? All some people see is that which they fear. Xenophobia at the pinnacle of its expression.

I am so very very sad.

I expected so much more from humanity. I had not realized the upward swing was that of a pendulum (why does that theme keep occurring?). This is where it gets creepy.

I find it alarming that those so dedicated to natural processes refuse to accept humanity as natural. This is simply the way it is supposed to be. You cannot forestall extinction events, they will depend upon the gene pool. If all traces of civilization are destroyed, how civilized will any survivors be?

You want to know about me? Ask. At the same time I was wearing $100 ties I was wearing $30 shoes. Is who I am based on the altitude of the observer’s gaze? I’ve done some fairly crazy things but most people think I am a conservative. Is who I am based on the fourth dimension of time as it intersects your inspection?

You know that “Judge not, yet ye be judged by the same measure” bit? Matthew 7:1 ? The advice has been out there for over two thousand years. The negative effects of not following that advice have been obvious for far longer. There is no excuse, it all begins with you.

You really can change the world. Just by changing yourself.

Solving Problems

Some of you may be aware that I have started a new job, working in one of Amazon’s fulfillment centers. I know fellow independent authors, “the enemy.” Amazon has not been very kind to independent authors, the royalty rates are paltry, but it’s a huge market and they own it. My ranking in their top 100 is #3,621,641, but I was never looking for monetary wealth.

I do need to pay the bills, so now I make sure other authors’ books get out into the marketplace. One of the dangers of working at Amazon is seeing all the books you didn’t know about, in fact even products you didn’t know existed. I’ve already come home from work and gotten on the computer to order something I saw going into the warehouse. I’m still waiting to see a copy of my book go by (not bloody likely), if I do I’ll be tempted to pick it up and sign it.

Life goes on, the path has curves but it is still the same path. My second day I was moved into the position of “Problem Solver” (one of the perks of having started the first day the facility opened), a fitting place for me. I’ve held a variety of positions in my life, but I’ve always been a problem solver, a “fixer,” the guy who makes things work. Ironic in timing, my personal life is beyond repair, my last wife died in my arms, I can fix other people’s problems but not my own.

The work is fascinating. Not so much the work itself, although the problems I resolve vary enough to hold my interest. The warehouse is largely robotic, all the items are stowed in bins that are moved by Kiva robots, then the pod of bins is stored and moved to the person filling an order when that item is needed. Our robots are a little sleeker than the ones in this video, and our pods are four sided and not just open shelves but a series of “bins” on each side, each bin is a unique address in some monster database that maintains the inventory.

 

One of the robots took a liking to me last week, it entered my work area without a pod, stayed facing me for a minute or two, then started flashing its blue headlights at me, as if it was fluttering its eyelashes, then it moved around into my immediate workspace, which it shouldn’t do without a pod, by which time the master program discovered its presence and sent me a message to release the robot into the available pool. If I was just a bit crazier I might believe that #5936 was flirting with me. I have been feeling rather lonely, but not that lonely.

The software that makes all this work must be millions if not billions of lines of code, tracking each item, each location, bringing the ordered items to the packers, and I’m fairly sure I might have done a better job in coordinating the processes. I just like watching the robots dance though. If one has a problem and stops, the other robots move around it, like cars in traffic. I had a line of robots waiting to enter a zone that had been shut down, and the robots behind the first in line kept shifting order as they tried to get past.

My job is finding lost items, making sure the virtual inventory matches the actual inventory, kind of a liaison between the real and virtual worlds, treading through maya. I am comfortable, in my natural environment.  It remains an interesting testament to man’s self doubt that errors are blamed on humans, even in the face of multiple computer faults, so another part of my job is giving feedback to the humans connected to mismatches, trying to help them reduce the number of errors even when I know that more than half the time it wasn’t their fault.

Amazon is a quirky company, looking both forward and backward. The founder, Jeff Bezos, started in his garage fifteen years ago, using a door laid across saw horses for a desk. Today, every desk is made of a door. No one carries a briefcase, they use backpacks. No ties (how I miss wearing a tie!), everyone in T-shirts. The facility, the largest Amazon has at the moment, is over one million square feet of floorspace, and situated within a 100 mile radius of the largest concentration of Amazon customers. My thoughts are it is in anticipation of the ability to deliver by drone, that radius allows a maximum flight of 200 miles, and the rooftop could be a droneport.

The hours are a little rough, a ten hour day (plus a half hour lunch) means I start at 0700 and finish at 1730, four days a week. The overlapping shifts mean you have a variety of people to interact with in a week, we all have different “weekends”, but the night shift follows the path of all night shifts, they leave the place a mess every morning and there is no way to communicate with them. I’ll never get to see another “Free at Noon” concert in Philly again, they are always on Friday, and as we head into the Christmas or “Peak” season, there will be overtime, in some instances mandatory overtime, possibly 60 hour weeks. Don’t expect to hear from me after Black Friday until New Years Day.

I’m not allowed to carry a camera or cell phone because I have to pass through a metal detector to leave, or I would take pictures and video of some of the amazing technology at play. Keeping track of thousands of employees’ cell phones to be sure they didn’t pick up one off a shelf would be maddening, not only to security but to employees who would like to leave the building within an hour of quitting time.

So I take a break from retirement, gathering new experiences to write about, enduring the pain of Lieve leaving me behind, using the time to reacquaint myself with me, or at least discover who I am now. I’ve spent the last four years trying to stop being a “type-A” personality, now those skills are coming back.

Caring for loved ones

We saw a film last night, “Transcendence” with Johnny Depp. It was a thought provoking film, at least it was for me, although I’m not sure what thoughts it might provoke in others. This article contains information that may be considered “spoilers,” but I will not give anything but my interpretations away.

The film tells the story of a human consciousness loaded into a computer. Not a laptop, or even a Cray, but a massive computer using thousands of “quantum processors”, the size of a building. In the story, Depp’s character, “William”, is developing an artificial intelligence program along with several other researchers, all of them approaching the problem from different angles. An anti-technology terrorist group attacks the various facilities, killing several scientists and mortally wounding William. One of the scientists had successfully loaded a monkey’s consciousness into a computer, and Williams wife believes she can keep William alive by uploading his consciousness.

The plot takes several turns, and is open to a variety of interpretations, but one central question is “Is the consciousness expressed by the computer really William?” The answer to that question requires knowledge of who William truly is, and the extrapolation of what that person would do in the given situation. There are hints for either a positive or negative answer.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the viewers have lives of their own, and they might consider what they might do were they William. In my life, I am in the midst of a conversation about the the appropriate care for loved ones. Perhaps that colors my interpretation of the film.

Sometimes we have to make difficult choices. The choices are not difficult if viewed through a simple filter, as a machine might view the choice. What makes the decisions difficult is because as humans, we do not have the opportunity to view the world through a single filter. Every decision we make has multiple effects and consequences, and what may be right from one point of view is wrong from another. We have to balance the reality of today, the debts of the past, and the uncertainty of the future. What is the best thing we can do for a loved one, considering that a major factor is the totally unknown influence of unknown events of the future? The truth is, we have no idea what we’re doing and can only do what feels best right now.

We can only hope our loved ones know we have the best of intentions and are doing what we believe is in their best interests. We trust them to trust us. At one point the consciousness says to William’s wife “you’ve changed.” The irony of measuring change by the reaction to one’s own changes was striking.

One aspect of the film which makes it  difficult to determine if the computer consciousness is William is that William was a human being, with skin and blood and a brain limited by the boundaries of human intelligence. The computer is capable of seeing a much bigger picture, analyzing literally all the data in the world. If the person that was William was suddenly capable of doing the things the computer could, would it still really be William? Are we the same people we were twenty years ago? Any change in circumstance affects the way in which we make decisions.

In the end, we are like the loved ones for whom we make decisions. We determine, from our own prejudiced position, if the end result was William’s plan, or the effect of William’s foes plans. Was this massive intelligence benevolent, or self serving? Was the change that took place an improvement for mankind? I think it was.

The assistance we give to others is not always accepted with a smile. I am of the “Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime, give a man a fish, and he eats for one day” school. So again, my personal prejudices may have tinted my interpretation of the film, mine was certainly different than my wife’s, because at the end of the film, I felt William had been a good caregiver, providing for the survival of a species, whether they liked it or not.

I hope I have piqued your interest in this film, I would like to see it become a landmark in our cultural literacy, but the message may be too dark for those that are happy to just know where their next fish is coming from. But then, I suppose that is the point I saw in the film.

Climate science

I have some background in science, enough to know when I have to hit the books rather than depend on instinct or “the buzz”. Some issues are obvious, others less so. The trouble is, most folks don’t know when something isn’t obvious. The ability to analyze and interpret data is a skill no longer taught in schools as a part of general education. We teach young people they have a right to speak, a right to their own opinions, yet we don’t teach them how to form intelligent opinions.

At our fingertips is access to all the information of the world, but without the ability to discern fact from fantasy, how do we really know to discard the web page from Elvis’ lover from outer space? In a large number of cases, we trust certain sources to be accurate, but there remains massive amounts of people who will believe anything, and once they believe, their faith cannot be shaken.

You may or may not believe in what is now called “Anthropogenic Climate Change”. It was previously called Climate Change, and before that Global Warming, and before that Weather. One clue an idea is without merit is when it keeps changing its name.

The idea of Anthropogenic Climate Change became popular after Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” was published in 1962. Carson’s focus was the use of pesticides, notably DDT, which could be directly linked to genetic damage in wildlife. Her book launched the environmental movement, which at the time was warning air pollution would cause a decrease in planetary temperatures by blocking sunlight, bringing on an ice age.

There are wondrous benefits to humanity to be gained by realizing where “away” is when we throw something away. Archeology provides several examples of societies that polluted their environments, and either moved on to pollute new locations or found themselves trapped in an environment that could no longer sustain them. There is no question that we can foul our immediate surroundings, or consume all of the locally available resources. Today we see ourselves as a global community, we realize we might actually be able to use all the resources on the planet, the pollution we ship off to someplace we can’t see can wash back up on our doorstep.

Somewhere in there is the break in logic. Maybe if we compare the issue to physics, where we recognize the rules change with scale, we may be better served. The thin crust of humans on this planet can destroy individual species, and in some cases those species may be keystones in the environment. We can do a lot of damage, and might even be able to make the entire planet hostile to human life. What is far more likely is we will find our pattern unsustainable, and due either to wisdom or necessity reduce the number of humans on the planet. Fewer humans, fewer resources consumed and polluted, the environment heals. If we do manage to drive our own species to extinction, should we shed a tear?

Everything works in cycles, we might mourn the loss of the Snail Darter, but is anyone campaigning to bring back Tyrannosaurus Rex? Part of our minds accepts, even embraces the cycles of lives, another insists on controlling them. Perhaps Homo Post Sapiens will do better.

For me, the issue of  “Climate Change” boils down to a few critical points.

First, “Is it happening?”. Despite what either camp is shouting, the answer is “The jury is still out on that one”. There is adequate data to indicate we are following natural cycles, and there is adequate speculation extrapolation of that data to indicate the trend might be towards unnatural warming.

Second, “Is there anything that should be done about it?”. Note that before even questioning if how or if we can, the question is “should”. The questions that arise here are “Is this a natural process?” and “Is there some reason to believe altering a global process could have positive results?”. We put on sunscreen before going out in the sun, and carry an umbrella in the rain, but is it a good idea to stop the sun or the rain? If it does turn out that humans have caused Climate Change, are not humans part of the ecosystem? Everything humans do is by definition natural, so should we consciously attempt to alter the climate of the entire planet?

Third, “What can be done about it?”. If there is climate change (Anthropogenic or not) and we determine we should attempt to alter it, what should we do? How precisely will allowing some countries to pollute more, and assigning fines to countries that have been arbitrarily chosen to pollute less, affect the climate in any possible way? If the problem is carbon in the atmosphere, and the problem is a global one, why is it a solution to allow Russia to buy India’s capacity to produce atmospheric carbon? Wouldn’t the solution be closer to eliminating atmospheric carbon production altogether rather than transferring currency?

My skepticism on the subject is not assuaged by the fanatics that claim humans are responsible for climate change. Starting from the beginning, are not weathermen the least trusted when the question is accuracy? Maybe they can forecast today’s weather, but next week? Next century? Ten thousand years from now? These are people who can’t remember not to wear green in front of a green screen, their only interaction with technology each day.

Chroma key at work

Chroma key at work

Our local weatherman mentioned today the wind chill temperatures would be lower in a certain area because they had more snow on the ground.  There is more snow on the ground there because it snowed there yesterday. Wind chill is determined by air temperature and wind speed, snow on the ground does not factor at all.

A fake petition was passed around at a global warming rally (I’m just guessing they’re against, and not for, global warming) requesting the United States government to lower the temperature of the sun. Stupid followers do not enhance your public image. People claiming that global warming “deniers” are ignoring science might want to check where that thermostat on the sun might be, and share with us why they think Americans have access to it.

Gallup recently presented the results from a poll, indicating “More than four in 10 Americans say the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated, while one in three say it is generally underestimated and about one in four say it is generally correct”. Despite the odd presentation (4/10 + 1/3 + 1/4 = 1) the poll was not about the science, or even about the scientists, but about public opinion, what people thought the scientists (more precisely the media) were saying. And this is my point. People are arguing about their opinions, with no knowledge of the facts. Despite the fact public opinion has nothing to do with the validity of data, it is interesting that even though more people believe scientists believe in global warming, more people than ever believe that global warming claims are exaggerated in the media.

Climate change deserves your attention. I have seen nothing that convinces me it is not a totally natural process, but regardless of your beliefs, seek out facts to support them. Don’t listen to wankers, they’re on both sides of the issue.

My friend the suicide bomber

The Ides of March were last week, a date that stands in my mind as the birthday of an old friend. I haven’t heard from John in years, but I remember him because of his birthday, and because he was a suicide bomber. John wasn’t crazy (well yes, by some standards he was). John had served in the United States Army, and while posted in what was called West Germany he was the human link in the chain nuclear deterrence. John controlled access to tactical nuclear weapons.

You may not be familiar with tactical nukes. Unlike the big, city leveling nuclear weapons most people had the sense to avoid, tactical nukes were smaller (in the sense they are only a few times as powerful as the weapons we used in Japan), and were intended for use within the theater of combat. Beyond artillery, tactical nuclear weapons were used in short-range missiles, land mines, depth charges, and torpedoes for anti-submarine warfare. In several applications, the distance to the target was less than the radius of lethal effects, thus John’s term “suicide bomb”.

There are a variety of factors in the effects of nuclear weapons. First there is the explosive blast, the shock wave that destroys buildings and less stable structures such as human beings. You can see the effects by using this application. Enter your address, and the explosive yield of the weapon in question. Tactical nukes ranged from 0.04 Kt (rifle fired projectile) to 40 Kt (155mm shells). Tank projectiles were in the 15 Kt range (similar to the Hiroshima weapon), as were several anti submarine weapons.  The various radii represent the different component effects of a detonation, and while one might survive inside the area affected due to precautionary sheltering, going on the assumption more than one weapon would be used creates multiple zones, overlapping in both area and time of effects.

Also in the category of tactical nukes are low (less than one megaton, or one thousand Kt) missiles and bombs, and “atomic demolition munitions”, bombs designed for the purpose of destroying structures or geography like bunkers, mountain passes, or tunnels, preventing enemy supply, escape, or evasion.

The experience of contemplating mortality, for not only himself but also his friends and possibly the world, left a mark on John. It is one thing for people to sit in an office one hundred feet below Omaha Nebraska and plan nuclear wars based on reconnaissance imagery and written reports from assets they’ll rarely meet face to face, and quite another to spend your tour living in  your target zone, looking at faces that will cease to exist if you ever have to do your job. Sanity lurks in a forest of rationalizations, the belief that the threat prevented the reality. It alters the way you interact with people, the way you respond to authority, the elements of life you choose to value.

John was a loving and caring man, who felt a need to care for the weak, and a need for primal screams. He would be gentle with his wife when she was sick, doing all he could to protect her from the dangers of her disease (diabetes) which she would or could not monitor on her own. We would meet in biker bars, because he felt safe there knowing we wouldn’t run into anyone from “the real world” of work. Neither of us weighed more than 140 lbs, he was maybe 5’6″, and we were obviously out of place, but somehow we fit right in.

It takes all kinds to make a world. Just because someone seems a little odd doesn’t mean your way of life hasn’t depended on them. More goes on under the surface than you might ever suspect.

 

 

Conflicting rights

 

 

 

 

 

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When I was young, signs like this were in every establishment. They often applied to me and my friends, as “hippies” were not always a widely accepted group. I suspect they were used to enforce a variety of personal prejudices, but to me they meant “We would rather avoid an argument than accept your business”.

Even Jack Nicholson didn’t get what he wanted.

There is a bill in Arizona, passed by the legislature and awaiting the governor’s signature, that reminds me of why I love Arizona. Arizona is America’s crazy uncle, the one who gets invited to Thanksgiving dinner because he’s part of the family, but we keep him away from the dinner conversation. We love him, but his ideas are just a little edgy.

The bill provides the right to refuse service if such service violates one’s religious beliefs. It has been interpreted by some as legalizing discrimination, and by others as protecting business owners against discrimination.

Personally, I’m of mixed feelings. It’s not a complicated bill (read it again, it’s only two pages), it’s just a complicated application. If you refuse service to someone based on your religious beliefs, that person cannot sue you for discriminating against them. Well, they can, you just have a codified defense.

The conflict itself is multi-layered. It is framed as a gay rights issue, so I will address it in that context. A business owner (in this case a bakery) refused to make a cake for a gay wedding. The owner stated she believed that gay marriage is a sin, and that baking a cake for the wedding would be supporting a sin. The couple decided that instead of going to another baker they would go to the newspaper. Another baker provided a cake for free and the bad press put the original bakery out of business. Free market forces win, but the story doesn’t end there.

Several other similar cases have occurred around the country, with bakers and wedding photographers taking a beating because they placed their beliefs before profits. That should be their right. I say that from a religious, economic, and social point of view. The state should not be capable of forcing you to do business with anyone.

Simply going to another provider is not sufficient for some people, and they bring suit against the business. This has happened in Connecticut, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico in the last few months, so Arizona decided to pass a statute that would protect business owners from such legal action.

Unlike other groups that are discriminated against, gay people are not always obviously gay people. Unless they’re getting married, and the absence of a member of the opposite sex in the couple is obvious. It is unlikely that the same gay couple in Arizona would have been denied the opportunity to purchase cupcakes from the baker, and if they had ordered a wedding cake without a same sex couple atop no one would have noticed, so the issues that have brought about this bill stem directly from gay marriage.

So in some ways this takes the issue from “Do you accept gay marriage?” to “Do you promote gay marriage?”. The arguments from both sides that are surfacing are reflecting the “Not in my backyard” or NIMBY emotions of many otherwise “liberal” people. It turns out everyone doesn’t feel the same way about this, or there may be shades between the black and white positions that have been staked out. The bill is designed to protect business owners in the practice of their beliefs, it does not single out a single religion or reason for being denied service. It could apply to anyone, at anytime. Without this bill it would be possible to sue a Halal butcher because he would not provide a roast pig.

What bothers me in all this is the divisiveness it accentuates. For one thing, the baker in question happened to be Christian. If there’s anyone who thinks Christians are more opposed to homosexuality than Muslims, or any other religions, please remove your head from the sand. The situation has been the exclusive realm for Christian bashers anyway, with headlines like “Would Jesus bake a gay wedding cake?”. The answer is an obvious NO, Jesus was a fisherman, not a baker. Please stop trying to define a religion you have rejected.

A person’s right to their sexual orientation does not override another person’s right to practice their religion. And vice versa. Just because photographer “A” won’t take pictures at your wedding doesn’t mean you can’t get married, or that no one else will take the gig. You have a right to be married, photographed, and served cake, just not by the individual of your choice. They have the right to say “No thank you”, you shouldn’t be able to sue them.

In this world, we make choices. If someone wishes to alienate a segment of the population (and their supporters), taking the gamble they will make up the lost business with like minded people, they should be able to do so. This is what capitalism is all about, doing what you believe in, not simply selling your soul for profits. That’s the edgy part about our crazy uncle’s ideas. They make a certain amount of sense to all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing is believing

There has been a trend against language for some time. The masses, easily misled by words, prefer pictures.

Several alleged “news” sources simply post video. No analysis or comment, occasionally going as far as stating “At 2:15 he makes his point” suggesting I should watch two minutes and fifteen seconds of a video to discover what the point might be. Just tell me, I can read, and I can read much faster than the video can tell its story. I have seen “articles” that consist of a collection of “memes”, with no original content. A string of pictures with captions rather than an actual opinion. “You know what I mean” moves to the next level.

“Meme” is derived from “mimeme”, meaning to imitate. The person who coined the word (Richard Dawkins) was looking for a monosyllabic expression. Rarely does a word fit its own definition so well, in some ways an intellectual onomatopoeia.

Recently footage of a chunk of ice falling off a glacier into the sea was headlined “Watch as a piece of the planet disappears forever!”. I watched, and saw ice fall into water. Nothing disappeared. Nonetheless the site was filled by global warming enthusiasts wringing their hands over the shame of it all. Pictures are like that. This is why anti-abortion activists carry pictures of aborted fetuses. The portion of the brain that reacts to visual stimuli skips the part that weighs facts and balances arguments. It’s a function of the survival instinct.

I’ve also noticed a grotesque misuse of graphs. A line on a page is not a graph. Unequal indices and unequally spaced indices are misleading. A graph with missing indices is just a set of meaningless lines. Yes, we can all see the line goes up as it moves from left to right, which influences my opinion as much as a picture of the guy from the Dos Equis commercials. But look! The line goes to the upper left hand corner! Turn the page ninety degrees, has the data changed? Why does the line go down now?

You may have noticed certain words in my articles are underlined. This was once the common way of letting readers know they could click on those words to link to an article verifying the information. Even that simple non-verbal form of communication has been corrupted. In a recent article about climate change, more than half the links were “broken”, that is, they lead nowhere, most often to a “404 Error” page. The casual reader would think there was documentation. Whether this was an intentional ruse to mislead readers or this was a case in which the documentation had been withdrawn is purely speculation.

The written word is not a natural form of communication. It is the product of intellectual evolution. De-evolution is a choice, it is a failure of intellect, and a great band from the ’80s. It is not the path a “progressive” should be attracted towards.

Our daily bread

There was a book by Philip & Phylis Morrison, “The Ring of Truth“. It is about the scientific method, and subtitled “How we know what we know”. It is a fascinating adventure into “popular” science, the idea that by presenting material about science in a non-scientific manner, lay people will be educated about the scientific method.

Much like teaching carpentry with a book about pastry, the results were somewhat disappointing. People who already understood the scientific method found the book interesting for its anecdotes. People who didn’t understand the scientific method found the book fascinating because anecdotes are often more interesting than data, and went forward believing they were now “Scientists”.

A dark day indeed.

Presently, we have descended intellectually to a point where “The Ring of Truth” is all that is required as proof for a theory.  Popular consensus carries more weight with lay people than actual facts, and education is deplored as “mind control”. “Research” means finding agreeable views on the internet, regardless of source.

In the name of “equality” we have skipped past the fact fifty percent of the population is of below average intelligence, and average intelligence is nothing to brag about. Everyone feels good about themselves and gets a trophy for being special.

There are “red flags”, items that should be obvious in the media that something is “sketchy” about a story, yet the same things that are red flags to those over median intelligence are the ring of truth to those below.

Take this as you wish. When a story is all over the news, does that make it true? When you hear the same story from several sources, does it trouble you that not a single source asked obvious follow up questions or dug into the subject a little deeper than the surface?

Take for instance azodicarbonamide.

Azodicarbonamide

Azodicarbonamide

I’m partial to CHON,  the essential elements of life, Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen. I know you can put them together in ways that are toxic to life, but no life on Earth exists without them. This group of CHON is a commonly used food additive, but for some reason it has been in the news lately. No, not the actual chemical, just a little about two products that contain it, and one of the many companies that uses it.

Compare it to the chemical that is often used in its place.

HCO− 3 + H2O → H 2CO 3 + OH−


NaHCO3 AKA “Baking Soda”

Azodicarbonamide is used in the same way as Baking Soda, when moistened it produces bubbles, those things that make the difference between “dough” and “bread”. It is used by most commercial bakeries in the United States and the United Kingdom. There have been questions about its safety in large doses as an inhalant, so it is banned in many countries, and limited to only forty five parts per million in food in the United States. In case your brain doesn’t work with numbers like that, ten thousand parts per million is one percent of the total, so forty five parts per million is .0045% of the ingredients.

Despite the fact azodicarbonamide is in most of the bread you eat, you may think that only Subway uses it. This should be the first red flag. Why would they be the only ones to use it? They aren’t.

You may also be aware that a variation of azodicarbonamide has commercial uses and is used in the production of some foamed plastics, like exercise mats (those little bubbles turn rubber into foam), but it is more likely that you have come to believe that azodicarbonamide has only two uses, Subway bread and yoga mats. Wow what a specialized chemical.

It should also be noted that a variation of the chemical Hydrazine (an antidepressant), known as both Hydrazine and Diazane, is used as a component of rocket fuel. Anti-depressants are not rocket fuel, bread is not yoga mats.

Hydrazine MAOI

Hydrazine MAOI

93px-Hydrazin.svg

Hydrazine rocket fuel

The question that has not been asked is “Why is it so important for Subway to remove a common ingredient from its bread?”. No one has suggested anyone else remove it from their bread, so why Subway? Could it be a competitor starting this fuss? If there is a health concern, it seems more likely that you would inhale azodicarbonamide when doing a downward facing dog than eating a sandwich.

But that only has the ring of truth, no empirical data exists.

Meanwhile, at the rebel base on Tatooine…

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No, not really. Those are not X wing fighters, although they have been mistaken for alien spaceships. These are A-12 (OXCART) aircraft, very possibly the most advanced aircraft ever built, doomed to be killed by a blackbird.

Now that much concerning the development of these craft has been declassified, we can talk about these exotic craft and the people who worked with them.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, since the flurry of activity last November and a number of friends sharing photographs that are no longer classified. What finally motivated me was a reference to Polaroid cameras the other day, and the recognition that strategic reconnaissance is a vastly unknown art.

Almost everyone has heard of Dr. Edwin Land, creator of the Polaroid camera. What many are unaware of is Dr. Land’s contribution to surveillance. In World War two he adapted his vectograph, a polarized 3D image, to defeat camouflage. Vectograph uses a system that polarizes the left/right images rather than using color filters. Dr. Land developed the cameras used in the U-2, OXCART (and later SR-71 BLACKBIRD), and several series of satellites.

These cameras took images from incredible distances. The closest perigee of a KH-11 was 157 miles, while the A-12 was flying at about 19 miles with an air speed over three times the speed of sound. The precise resolution remains classified, but paired with excellent photo interpretation, we managed follow a great deal of activity.

Strategic surveillance has always been around, we watch each other, and sometimes the curtain of secrecy which separates engineers of differing political persuasions can be pierced.  The greatest airframes have been designed by Russians, but the imaginations required to exploit those airframes with superior avionics have been American. You knew the Mig-25 magically turned into the F-15, but now you know the stealth program began with a Russian design. When we first saw one on a runway we thought it was a Russian space shuttle prototype, the design became TACIT BLUE.

Today surveillance is more signal oriented. In the flood of communications made available to every drooling biped on the planet, computer algorithms “listen” to our conversations, looking for keywords. The same way advertisers zero in on you, hitting you with ads for whatever you just looked for, programs like NARUSINSIGHT look for key words or combinations. Even with the most sophisticated and immense computers in existence, only about thirty percent of traffic can be monitored. Observe a smaller pool of communication, and you can catch everything (reveal what you’ve found and people stop talking).

The “revelations” about surveillance are only surprises to those who haven’t been paying attention. The fears about surveillance are only as founded as our own self measurements of guilt. Was it a bad thing for Victoria Nuland to express her feelings in a private phone conversation? I don’t think so. I think it points out the importance of appropriate interpretation. Personal opinions are not state agendas.

The biggest secret is there really are no secrets.

Is it live, or is it Memorex?

In the science fiction series Star Trek: The Next Generation, LeVar Burton plays helmsman Geordi La Forge (his assignment changes to Chief Engineer after the first season, odd career path).

Geordi-La-Forge-Gets-Downgraded-to-Google-Glass-2.jpg 1364822836

The allegory of a blind man as helmsman provides infinite opportunities to address the meaning of “vision”, story lines touching on perception were the mainstay of the La Forge character. He may have been inspired by the Frank Herbert’s Guild Navigators in the “Dune” novels, or the Fafa-kitahi, the “Feelers of the Sea”, Tongan navigators who were blind. Roddenberry named the character for a fan of the original series, George La Forge, who was quadriplegic.

The purpose of science is to see the unseen.

Applied sciences exploit our understanding of the universe, but it is “pure” science, the desire to understand, that sparks great minds. In the real world our La Forge is the real life helmsman of understanding the universe, Stephen Hawking.

For those of you not familiar with Professor Hawking, he is a brilliant theoretical physicist and cosmologist, whose greatest contribution has been his personality. Dr. Hawking didn’t invent black holes, but without him you would have never heard of them. Professor Hawking has made theoretical physics accessible. From his wheelchair. Professor Hawking was diagnosed with a form of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) at the age of twenty one, and his physical abilities have deteriorated to the point that he now controls devices with the muscles in his cheeks.

Curiosity - Is there a creator

Professor Stephen Hawking CH CBE FRS FRSA

You’ve heard his “voice“, which despite being generated synthetically is still recognizable as belonging to him. He has appeared in countless interviews and guest appearances, including a role on “The Simpsons“. His first popular book, “A Brief History of Time”, sold over ten million copies since its publication in 1988, and spent five years on the London Sunday Times’ best seller list. The New York Metropolitan Opera has commissioned an operatic adaptation.

Very few people know what exactly Professor Hawking did that made him so famous. He presented a theory that black holes aren’t really black. Hawking radiation, an emission at the event horizon of a black hole, was a pretty radical idea in 1974. In a micro black hole, more energy could escape than is consumed, causing “black hole evaporation”. Maybe it is the romanticism, the Geordi La Forge effect, that comes when a man whose personal universe is collapsing  sees the omega of the universe has an escape hatch, that has made Professor Hawking so popular.

A great deal of understanding physics involves the ability to see through the veneer of “reality” and into the way things really work. In the same way that it is difficult to draw a four-dimensional object on a two-dimensional canvass, it is difficult to explain theoretical physics with words. The idea of a black hole, an object so massive that its gravitational field can trap light, seems simple. It’s when you get down to the “How can that exist within the known laws of the universe?” part when descriptions fall into mathematics. We “prove” the existence of things we cannot see through mathematics, electrons do not orbit nuclei in orderly solar systems, they exist in a probability cloud. The picture of an atom is an equation of probabilities.

The boundary of the gravitational field, the points in space at which the field is so intense that light cannot escape, is called the event horizon. Because light does not escape that boundary we call it a black hole. But if you’re picturing a non-reflective sphere, or some point at which a gravity well can be presumed to exist due to the flux in visual perception, you’re trying to draw two-dimensional tesseracts.

I’m trying to avoid the math and just stay with the concepts. Professor Hawking made the universe of cosmology approachable, but what he “showed” us can only be imagined. We see what we can imagine, which presents our limiting factor. If we can’t imagine it, we can’t understand it.

Recently the professor has published a new view of the invisible. In “Information preservation and weather forecasting for black holes”, Professor Hawking addresses the conflicts between general relativity and quantum theory as they explain black holes (he also indicates, by the title, he is still has an awesome sense of humor). This has been popularized as “Hawking now claims black holes don’t exist”.

Language zero, Physics one.

In the classic sense, black holes as we envision them do not exist. If anything that enters the event horizon is lost to the universe forever, there is no way for them to fit our classical measures of existence. What Professor Hawking has formulated is an explanation for the existence of something that can’t exist. Professor Hawking is suggesting is that event horizons do not exist, and replaces the term with “apparent horizons”, a fuzzy zone in which the super gravity of the black hole wrecks havoc with the laws of physics; he summarizes “The absence of event horizons mean that there are no black holes — in the sense of regimes from which light can’t escape to infi nity. There are however apparent horizons which persist for a period of time”. That period of time may be billions of years.

Our impressions of the universe are experienced with our minds. What we see is only the photons that have traveled to our optic nerve, what our mind sees is the photons that could never reach us. When we look at the stars, we see them as they were thousands of years ago. We see constellations with no sense of depth, as if the stars were laid out upon a canvas, yet from another angle, the brightness and relationships would form different pictures.

What is “real”? The answer rests on what we understand to be possible. And of course, there’s always the wisdom of the Rockman…

 

Heroes

I have known people who are bona fide heroes. Depending on your definition, I might be a hero. It’s a title I don’t desire, as it waters down the impact of those I consider to be real heroes.

These days there are so many heroes that it is the unusual person who is not a hero.

The kid with cancer who wants to be Batman for a day is a “hero”. Any cancer survivor is a hero. Oddly, dying of cancer is less heroic, and treating cancer gets no mention at all.

Right now, as far as I’m concerned, the guys from the water company who worked through the night to repair the water main break out front, allowing me to take my first hot shower in days, are heroes.

Edward Snowden is not a hero. Neither is “Chelsea” (Bradley) Manning, or Julian Assange. Heroism requires more than being on the right side of an issue, and I’m still not certain which side of their issue is the “right” side. I do know that heroism involves “doing the right thing”, a fairly fuzzy definition, and that none of these men chose the “right thing” that was available, turning instead to illegal avenues that endangered the lives of others. Heroes don’t put people in danger, so yeah, I’m sure these guys aren’t heroes.

Most of you have never heard of Aaron Swartz, but a lot of people think he was a hero. He was certainly a genius, developing the RSS standard when he was only fourteen. He left public school in the tenth grade, enrolling in the local college, and was later admitted to Stanford University. He dropped out of Stanford after a year, because he “didn’t find it intellectually stimulating”.

What he did find intellectually stimulating was exploiting the internet, developing ways to make it accessible in more ways to more people. Among his cooperative developments are Markdown, Infogami (which became Reddit),  and Jottit, among a multitude of web shattering collaborations. Aaron became quite wealthy from his creative efforts, and invested his money and intellect into social causes. He believed the internet should be free, and that all the content on the internet should be free. Not a very popular position among artists, but big with consumers.

Aaron was, as most “creative types” are, prone to depression. Real, clinical depression. Being a genius and being able to accomplish anything he applied himself to made him feel invincible, the praise and hero worship justified his impression of moral superiority. When he “liberated” millions of documents from the MIT JSTOR library, he was indicted on 13 counts of wire fraud, computer intrusion and reckless damage.

The reality of a world regulated with “stupid” laws that applied to everyone, including him, was more than Aaron could handle. He hung himself in his Brooklyn apartment last year, three months before his trial date, at age twenty six.

I can empathize with his turmoil, his aspirations, the frustrations of living in a world of masters and slaves.

Was he a hero? Maybe. Was he a criminal? Probably. Was he a gift of genius and insight to the human race? Certainly.

Life is a complex equation, human beings are a mash of variables. Very few things are black or white.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recently ruled on the issue of “net neutrality“, allowing providers to regulate content. What this means on the surface is Verizon can charge Netflix for the amount of bandwidth it uses, and that cost will be forwarded to end users. What it means to some people is that internet providers have the ability to charge for and control what content they deem to provide. Will it be abused and used for censorship? Probably, in the way that Walmart, the largest retailer of hardcopy music, has the ability to control what it sells. If you want a CD with a parental advisory, it’s not at Walmart. That would only be censorship if you also couldn’t get the CD at Target, or a neighborhood record store (a few still exist), due to Walmart’s influence.

If internet providers were capable of censorship, I would certainly hope the first thing they shut down are child pornography sites, I will give a second thought to whether or not they might censor speech sometime after that happens. In the meantime, I am perfectly comfortable with the fact that copyrights still apply to the internet, as an author my work is protected, as artists my friends works are protected.

There are a lot of heroes out there. They make the world a beautiful place. Celebrate them.

Know Nukes

I always find the phrase “Nuclear family” rather funny.  Even though my parents divorced when I was twelve, I still think of my childhood as nuclear, just a different kind of nuclear. Dad worked in the scientific instrument field, so we had radioactive supplies around the house quite often.

I did the “Duck and cover” drills in elementary school, I grew up with the knowledge that a fission device could end the lives of everyone I knew at any moment, and that liquid scintillation counters used radiation for life saving research. I knew some forms of radiation were safe and some were not. I learned that some chemicals keep us alive while others are toxic. I learned that some plants are natural medicines, and some are natural poisons. I learned when to be afraid, and when not to. I used a cooler that my father had carried radioactive isotopes in to carry beer to concerts. There was no residual radioactivity, but I would joke about it and say “I didn’t want to have kids anyway”. It was a joke, okay? I’ve got four kids now.

Back then, all that information was in books. It still is, but it is supplemented, and sometimes supplanted by the internet.

The internet is a social forum. It is not a font of knowledge, it is a sewer of information. Sure, there may be a discarded gold watch in there, but it’s covered with feces.

There is a reason why scientists are respected. Because they are trained in critical thinking, and have studied their respective fields. When Emma had cancer, we didn’t seek the advice of a nuclear physicist, we were fortunate enough to find a premiere oncologist, Dr. Charles Yeo. When I’m looking for information on Global Warming, I don’t call Dr. Yeo, I check peer reviewed studies from respectable institutions. The resources available on the internet are amazing, and so is some of the garbage.

There is a lot of fuzzy logic out there. People who have no idea how to apply critical thinking are unlikely to apply any critical thinking to their sources. It’s maddening that people who say they don’t believe anything will believe anything, as long as it has no connection to actual research. For some reason fear mongering is popular. Maybe it’s the release of frustration, maybe it’s the need to control other people. Look at the various theories floating around, is there one that is based on a positive event?

Usually the false information is harmless. If people want to get worked up over issues that don’t exist that’s fine, just don’t try to get me worked up about it. Don’t come to my  door (this actually happened a few years ago) and insult me because I don’t believe your bullshit. If you don’t want there to be fracking, or a pipeline, or offshore drilling, then drive your SUV off a cliff. If you want to eat, drink, and breathe asparagus to cure your cancer, go right ahead. I’ll be pursuing therapies that actually have positive results. I don’t see a problem with genetically modified organisms. Gregor Mendels began the research in 1856, we’ve been modifying plants and animals at a genetic level for one hundred and fifty years. Suddenly it’s the end of the world?

58848_10152762653590445_1639561038_n

There is stuff to worry about, and insufficient time to worry about things that don’t matter.

The Fukushima disaster has caused a great deal of wringing of hands. Radiation can be scary, especially in the country where it brought Godzilla to life. I’ve read a lot about it, but actual verifiable information is being crowded out by fear mongering. If you’re afraid of nuclear power, fine, turn off your computer. Nuclear power has caused fewer deaths than any other source of power, when compared on a watt to death ratio. What that means is that more people die generating one hundred gigawatts of electricity in coal based generation, petroleum based generation, hydro-electric generation, and even solar generation than in nuclear generation. Wind power costs twice as many lives as nuclear per watt, while providing one seventeenth as much of the world’s electricity (I know that statistic could be claimed to be misleading as I’m using two different measures, read it carefully).

Fukushima survived one of the largest earthquakes in history. Measuring 9.0 on the Richter magnitude scale, with an epicenter less than one hundred miles away, it is not the kind of event that can be factored into safety engineering. The Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant, even closer to the epicenter, survived undamaged. Eight gas fired power plants and two refineries were damaged. Nearly sixteen thousand people died, but no deaths are tied to exposure to radioactivity, although several people died due to the evacuation around Fukushima.

There has been a good deal of speculation and outright lies in the reporting of the impact of the earthquake. When people don’t understand that there is a level of background radiation that occurs naturally everywhere on Earth, they are easily fooled into a  post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning when shown background radiation in an area they don’t expect to see it. This is similar to the concern over radiation in the waste water from fracking. Uranium is a naturally occurring element, if it is in the soil where fracking is taking place, it will be in the waste water. It is no different than the cognitive dissonance which takes place when people see a bear in a semi rural neighborhood such as my own, and ask “where did it come from?”. We move to the woods to be closer to nature, yet are surprised by its presence.

One of the reasons we need to be aware of our surroundings is so we’ll know the difference between normal and abnormal occurrences. This way we know when to be afraid, and when not to be.

Know nukes. No fear.

 

Save

College radio

When I was young, “College radio” meant a low power station operated by students. The music was often local unsigned acts that provided cassette tapes recorded in garages. It wasn’t unusual to have a minute of dead air a couple of times a day. DJs made horrendous mistakes, often providing unintended humor.

The methods have changed over the years, the first station I was involved with didn’t technically “broadcast”, it was just a channel on the school’s public address system. Lieve worked at a “pirate” radio station, which is still around but has gone legit. A friend does a weekly “radio” program (92.1, Brussels) but I’m able to listen to it here as it streams over the internet.

scorpio

A handbill for Lieve’s old radio station we found in Leuven

In Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania’s radio station is removed from the college entirely. WXPN pretends to be a college station, but its employees aren’t college students. Its leading host (David Dye) is nationally syndicated, and I believe his grandchildren have graduated from college. From his initial project with NPR, “World Cafe”, a small empire has risen.

World Cafe Live” is the name of two restaurants/concert venues. They are connected to WXPN in ways I can’t determine, weaving in and out of each others operations. WXPN is officially a National Public Radio station, and as such a non-profit organization. World Cafe Live is quite obviously a profit driven enterprise. I don’t know how they do it, but I’m glad they do.

Every Summer WXPN hosts the “XPN festival”, a three day concert with multiple stages, and acts ranging from local favorites to world class headliners. Tickets run about $25 a day, and access to the artists is incredible. Not only did I stand about twenty feet from Citizen Cope and Booker T, and within an arms length of Dar Williams and Gary Clarke Jr. on “stage”, there are meet and greet tents after every performance.

World Cafe Live hosts a variety of local and national acts in a theater with a capacity that ranges from 300 to 650 depending on whether there are tables or SRO. One miserable night in the middle of a storm we saw Martha Davis play a full set to about fifty people. Tickets are rarely more than $30, and every Friday there is a free mid-day concert, “Free at Noon”, which is broadcast live on WXPN. Next week we’re going to see Suzanne Vega. Free.

When we attend the evening concerts, we usually sit in the mezzanine, which is closer to the stage than most seats at large venues, and has comfy couch seats and cafe service. Having the band play in your home wouldn’t be quite as comfortable. We recorded this from our favorite seats.

Upstairs is the main restaurant, which also has a stage although I’ve never heard a band I liked there, mostly because the acoustics are suited to acoustic instruments, and the bands are usually amplified.

The food is good, innovative, and interesting. There aren’t near enough vegetarian options, which I found rather surprising considering the target clientele. The beer selection is robust, although they stopped carrying Stella Artois last year.

World Cafe Live also has charity events, and because of the odd relationship between World Cafe Live and WXPN, the charitable donation made to attend an event ends up paying for a membership to WXPN. We attend the “Musicians on Call” event every year, a fund raising concert for musicians who perform for patients in hospitals.

Being a member of WXPN has benefits, we get a discount at the Princeton Record Exchange and for the XPN festival, and early entry for the free at noon concerts.

This merging of enterprises, profit and non-profit, may not fit what we expect of the tax code, but I think it fulfills the intention of “non-profit”. It certainly fits the spirit of radio.

Time

The Doctor Who Christmas special was, predictably, on Christmas night. It is one of the fixed events in space-time, every Christmas, the Doctor saves the world, sometimes the entire universe. Or always. It’s one of those timey wimey things.

For fifty years, through twelve (thirteen, fourteen, fifteen?) faces, he is always The Doctor. Time loops around and around, so the idea of a “chronological” progression is patently illogical. He occasionally runs into himself, or selves, but understanding that time contains events that can be altered, who is to say which self precedes which? Cause and effect become fuzzy, Who nose?

It is often secondary to the immediate story to ponder the meaning of time itself, the media through which the Doctor travels. Yet we all travel through time, my personal journey spanning the distance between 15 November 1958 and some unknown point in the future. In our experience, time is both eternal and transient. We believe the past took place, and we imagine the future will, but all that we have is this very moment. Time, past present and future, exists only within our individual experience. A study by the BBC concludes as of Dr. Who’s fiftieth anniversary, he had traveled over two hundred trillion years.

Doctor Who, like any fantasy series, inspires the imagination. Anything can happen and often does. Despite initially being one of the more violent programs on television, the Doctor most often seeks non-violent solutions. The theme often revolves around unlikely heroes. Perhaps this is a reflection of the soul of Doctor Who, the appeal of the idea living beyond any one incarnation. Sydney Newman’s loose concept of a Doctor, traveling through time and space, not even an idea of what kind of doctor. Verity Lambert’s strengths as a producer, the youngest and only female producer at BBC at the time. A string of young directors and writers who might not have had the opportunity to expose and develop their talents on a more mainstream project. Even the music, written by Ron Grainer and created using an early version of the Mellotron, is iconic. Now Doctor Who is mainstream, a fixture in our culture, made so by the unlikely heroes.

Time itself is a mystery. We appear to be able to travel in one direction only, at a fixed speed. We see the cycles in nature and imagine cycles in time, anniversaries creating points on an imagined circle. We seek to renew ourselves each year, seeing New Years Day as a point on the circle when we are allowed to start again. There are an infinite number of points on our timelines, we may start over whenever we wish. Each moment we are recreated, why hesitate to be created as the best person we can be at that moment? Our time is too short to waste it being anything other than the best we can be.

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Ongewenste

One interesting thing about having an email address based in another country (Belgium, or .be) is the emails in my “spam” folder (or in this case “ongewenste” or “unwanted”).
BNP Paribas Fortis is one of the largest banks in Belgium, but I don’t have an account with them. I received this notice the other day telling me my online account would expire if I didn’t log in using the link in the email. I guess some people still fall for these, even if I did have an account with this bank, or perhaps particularly if I had an account with this bank, I would use my own bookmark to access my account.
BNP PARIBAS FORTIS (msanchez@ceaaces.gob.ec)
Toevoegen aan contactpersonen
7-12-2013

Foto’s

Afbeelding van BNP PARIBAS FORTIS
Van: BNP PARIBAS FORTIS (msanchez@ceaaces.gob.ec) Microsoft SmartScreen heeft dit bericht gemarkeerd als ongewenst.
Verzonden: zaterdag 7 december 2013 6:24:00
Aan:  
 
Microsoft SmartScreen heeft dit bericht gemarkeerd als ongewenst en het wordt na tien dagen verwijderd.

Dit bericht is veilig!|Ik weet het niet zeker, ik controleer dit

Geachte BNP PARIBAS FORTIS Client,

Houdt u er rekening mee dat de toegang tot uw online-account dreigt te verlopen.Om de toegang tot uw
online account actief te houden, vragen wij u dan gelieve om zo snel mogelijk in te loggen.Gebruik de
onderstaande link om verder te gaan en toegang te krijgen tot uw account.

Nadat u gebruik heeft gemaakt van de onderstaande link zal er door één van onze medewerkers nog
contact met u worden opgenomen om het gehele proces te voltooien. Wanneer het gehele proces gereed
is zal u weer als vanouds gebruik kunnen maken van uw BNP PARIBAS FORTIS-online.

Klik hier

Met toegang tot uw BNP PARIBAS FORTIS online kunt u het grootste gedeelte van uw bankverrichtingen
uitvoeren door u aan te melden op het onlinebankieren.

Wij willen u alvast bedanken voor uw medewerking BNP PARIBAS FORTIS.

Hoogachtend,

Klantenservice

Germán Alemán E11-32 y Javier Arauz
Telf. (593 2) 2256470, 2920003, 2920098,
2245988, 2460051, 2460101, 2460006.

Quito – Ecuador

The other obvious error is the return email address. “.ec” indicates it is in Ecuador. BNP Paribas Fortis is a Belgian Bank, which operates primarily in Europe. It does have operations in the Western United States, Guam, and Saipan, but it has no offices in Ecuador, or anywhere in South America. The phone numbers at the bottom of the email all indicate an Ecuadoran country code.

They’ve been relentless, new emails every day with increasing urgency. The latest was titled DRINGEND‏, or “URGENT”. If I had an account with them I might be concerned.
Then I started getting emails from other banks. When I do move to Belgium, I probably will open an account at KBC. I mean, how cool is it to have a bank whose name is your initials? KBC originated in Lueven, and from this email it seems a third party has attempted to gain access to my account which does not exist.

KBC-BEVEILIGINGSPROBLEEM‏

George Hrivnak (ghrivnak@bond.edu.au)
19-12-2013
Afbeelding van George Hrivnak
Van: George Hrivnak (ghrivnak@bond.edu.au) Dit bericht is naar de huidige locatie verplaatst.
Verzonden: donderdag 19 december 2013 4:48:33
Aan:
Dit bericht is als ongewenst gemarkeerd en wordt daarom over tien dagen verwijderd.

KBC-BEVEILIGINGSPROBLEEM

Geachte klant,

Uit onze gegevens blijkt dat uw KBC Bank rekening mogelijk door een derde partij
is geprobeerd binnen te dringen.

De veiligheid van uw rekening is onze primaire zorg, daarom is er besloten om de toegang
tot uw rekening tijdelijk te beperken.Om weer volledige toegang tot uw rekening te krijgen
moet u uw gegevens herstellen en bevestigen via de link: Klik hier

Zodra uw gegevens door ons zijn gecontroleerd en bevestigd, word er zo spoedig mogelijk
contact met u opgenomen door een van onze medewerkers om de toegang tot uw rekening
volledig te herstellen. Wij danken u voor uw medewerking.

Met vriendelijke groet,
KBC BankAfdeling Veiligheidszaken.

Again, very strange that a bank in Belgium would base its department of security affairs in Australia. Apparently these multi national scams are quite popular, and/or people don’t read the email address to ascertain its origin.

I got another today in English, claiming to have three hundred million U.S. dollars in a money laundering account in Ouagadougou Republic. This was a basic “send me your information” phishing scam, the address he wanted the information sent to is in South Africa (.za), but the email originated in Brazil (.br). So a guy using a South American email address to send a scam based in Africa to a European email address that belongs to a guy in North America doesn’t draw the attention of Interpol because the NSA is busy monitoring the facebook page of my grandson.

Scams appeal to either fear or greed, but they can only be successful if the target isn’t paying attention. Don’t “click here”. If you need to contact your bank, they’re probably in your bookmarks, or you can search them, but if the email didn’t originate in your country, it’s certainly not from your bank.

The world turned upside down

The-Little-Prince-007

 

 

When I travel, I often think of my place on the planet in terms of “The Little Prince”. Speaking with friends on other continents I see us as two large figures on a small planet.

Being from the Northern hemisphere, it seems natural to picture myself standing atop the planet. I wonder how people in the Southern hemisphere would picture it. There is no “up” and “down” in space, so our view of Earth is influenced by our interpretation of “North” and “South”. Approaching Earth from a different star system, how would we orient ourselves?

Add to this the fact that such measurements as magnetic poles change over time, and you see the lack of meaning in words like “upside down”. The magnetic poles of the Sun, a measurement we might use to determine how to view our solar system and thus Earth, flip every eleven years, so the “top” surface of the plane of the solar system has changed five times in my life.

But it takes something truly amazing to realize that the world has turned upside down. Like the Russians presenting themselves before the United Nations as champions of democracy.

Raised in the KGB, Vladimir Putin understands how a good dictatorship works. It’s a cushy job to control other people. It’s also quite obvious when someone else starts pulling the strings. The global warming scam was acceptable propaganda when Russia was racking up carbon credits. But when the Conference of Parties decided that Russia was being given an economic advantage based on the Kyoto protocols prejudice towards underdeveloped nations, they decided to change the terms.

The irony in all of this is incredible.

A consensus of propaganda

A consensus of propaganda

 

For any great propaganda campaign to be successful, reality must be altered. The lie becomes believable when the language is changed in such a way that misinformation can pass as information. The key to the global warming scam has been altering the understanding of the term “consensus”.

Reality is not democratic. Six hundred years ago, scientific consensus held that the earth was flat, and the Sun orbited the Earth. In a world of populist movements, it is important to remember that it doesn’t matter how many people think something, it matters how many people who know what they’re talking about think something. Survival in the academic world means toeing the line, much as it did in Galileo’s day.

Despite evidence that the much celebrated “consensus of climatologists” is a fabrication, The propaganda machine rolls on. When the only papers being allowed publication agree with the “consensus”, the belief that a consensus exists continues. Simple facts such as observations not matching projections are dismissed. Attributing every major event to global warming continues, but actual scientists are starting to publicly back away, realizing that one day credibility will come back into vogue.

So back to the Russians. Happy to accept carbon credits based on the “consensus” that global warming exists, and the “consensus” that it is caused by humans burning fossil fuels (but not by biofuels), they’re not too happy with a consensus they have received an “unfair” advantage. Now they want to see democratic, transparent procedures followed. In English, we say “You’ve made your bed, now you must lie on it”.

The world cannot turn upside down, because there is no such thing as “up”. It is hilarious listening to everyone talk about the sky falling.

 

 

Cinema as spectacle

The first film I remember seeing as a child is “The Sword in the Stone“, a Disney film. Through the years I’ve enjoyed going to the movies, escaping reality for a few hours. I once watched the entire “Planet of the Apes” series in a marathon at a theatre in Los Angeles, drove half an hour to see a 70mm print of “Star Wars” a dozen or so times the summer of 1977, and saw a midnight showing of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” in New Jersey in 1979. One of the strangest experiences was “Apocalypse Now” at an Airbase, the only time I’ve seen an airstrike get a standing ovation.

Over the years, cinematography has become as interesting to me as the story, film scoring caught my ear beginning with “Star Wars”, but I don’t think it was until “Edward Scissorhands” that I was moved by an acting performance. There are actors that I’ve managed to see every film they’ve been in, but I’ve never avoided a film because of an actor.

Technology has become as important as storyline to Hollywood. Audiences are compelled by visuals, and computer generated characters are acceptable, maybe even preferred, by a generation raised on video games. Sometimes, effects like 3D and IMAX can enhance a film, sometimes they’re just a gimmick to move a bad script.

“Prometheus” was enhanced by 3D and IMAX, and “Oz the Great and Powerful” used 3D beautifully, drawing the viewer into the film, from spectator to participant. The scripts were great (although I don’t think the ruby slippers were explained properly), and I know the films will translate well to the medium through which most films are seen today, television. “Gravity”, on the other hand, could not exist outside an IMAX theatre. Much like the early IMAX productions, the spectacle of the images was the most important player in the film. Listening to Sandra Bullock breathe heavily for ninety minutes isn’t going to work without the impression of confinement within a vast emptiness that was conveyed in the theatre. The film was marketed on its visual effects, but unfortunately that’s all it has.

I am very much looking forward to “Ender’s Game”, which opens 1 November. The source, Orson Scott Card’s books, is a science fiction classic, and a timeless allegory about warfare, all the more meaningful in today’s generation of video games and virtual realities. It will be difficult to follow the actual story, with Ender aging through his childhood, but the trailers I have seen appear to have captured the content. It has the potential to be stunning in an IMAX presentation, and if the script holds true it may become popular for home viewing. Due to the centrality of time dilation in the storyline, it may not be possible to continue the series, the characters age at different rates, but anything is possible with technology.

Perspectives

I’ve been thinking about how various groups fit into the world, what our ranking is by size. This started a few weeks ago when I was writing about religions, and found that for all the attention paid to Judaism, there are only 15.4 million Jews in the world. Looked at another way, more than twice as many people live in Tokyo Japan than are Jewish. Yet we consider it a “major world religion”. This may become my new measuring stick, the Jewish population, or JP. America has a population of 22 JP.

Oh my God he’s playing with numbers again.

I heard on the news that in the first three weeks, 475,000 people had signed up for Obamacare (This does not mean that they purchased healthcare, just that they signed on). Less than half a million. Less than the population of Fresno, CA, or 0.03 JP. At this rate, two million (0.12 JP) people will be signed up by 1 January. The other three hundred eleven million Americans will be facing tax penalties.

I had no idea that the system was so unstable. It is alleged that the administration didn’t either. I’m not sure if I believe that, but there are plenty of management types out there who are incapable of saying “I’m sorry, we cannot possibly accomplish that”. When we switched to an Oracle system from mainframe at Imagistics, with only a few thousand users, it took a year to prepare and two months to work out the kinks. Could no one in the administration comprehend the scale, the number of systems being integrated and the number of users, this project represented?

When the system crashed soon after going live, how could anyone reasonably blame it on volume? Exactly how much traffic did they expect for a system with three hundred twelve million users? Did it not occur to them that on a daily basis, ten percent (2.2 JP) of those users would require access?

It is only recently the blame has been shifted from traffic volume to software, and now the software designers are blaming the White House for last minute changes. They apparently were not aware that you would have to register with all your data before you could compare prices. Obviously they had never purchased insurance of any kind for themselves. How ironic, the very people Obamacare was supposed to help…

But this wasn’t just a traffic problem. The software itself is useless. All of the data collected thus far is corrupted. If you happen to be one of those residents of Fresno CA who managed to sign up, the options you have been offered are based on corrupted data, so should you choose to purchase a healthcare plan, you may find that you don’t qualify for it. When will you find this out? When the doctor’s bill is rejected, and you’re responsible for it.

Not to be overly cynical, but which part do you suspect will work? How about the part that fines you for not having health care? There is a natural mistrust of anyone who handles your money, but the IRS has certainly earned their mistrust. A few years back there was a change in the tax code, and a large number of people were calling the IRS helpline for assistance. The information they gave out was incorrect. Not only that, but they refused to take responsibility, because it is the taxpayer’s responsibility to correctly file their tax forms. Add to that the recent scandal in which the IRS was targeting conservatives. First they apologized, then they denied having done it, then the director stated the employees did not know the regulations. I know I have trust issues, but this is ridiculous.

The White House has just offered a solution, allowing a six week extension (15 February 2014). This should only leave three hundred ten million Americans (20 JP) facing a tax penalty. Perhaps this is the solution to the deficit. All those people that we hear are not paying taxes will now be fined by the IRS anyway.

The only way for a system this large to work properly, is to erase all current data, rewrite the software, and test with a reasonable sample, let’s say 0.12 JP, or roughly the number of federal employees. After the bugs are worked out (there are always bugs), then roll it out to the general public. Of course this may mean that the program isn’t implemented during our children’s’ lifetimes, but this would be the right way to do it.

Chemistry

I have this widget on my desktop, from Snapple. Every day it pops up with a new piece of trivia. Most days it leads to a search to authenticate the “fun fact”.

The other day was “Baking Soda makes a great scouring cleanser, and it’s naturally chemical free”.

Didn’t need to check this one. Sodium hydrogen carbonate (NaHCO3) is a chemical. Baking soda is free of any other ingredients.

Not that there could be any additives that would dilute the amount of chemicals in the product, Everything consists of chemicals, A newborn human consists of chemicals, about ninety nine percent of which are oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. About 0.85% is composed of another five elements, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. The remaining 0.15 percent are trace elements, most of which are easily recognizable as lethal, too much or too little of anything is dangerous.

Chemical makeup of humans

Chemical makeup of humans

My view of chemicals is different than most people, my father was a chemist, and the dinner conversation every night was often a science lesson.

The general view is that chemicals should be avoided, while the truth is “additives” should usually be avoided. Most people recognize the benefit of taking a multivitamin every day, but would be appalled if the same ingredients were listed as being part of their food. Those chemicals should be obtained from a balanced diet, because all the trace elements exist in nature, but since most people don’t eat a balanced diet, they consider it healthy to take a pill every day.

Just because you can’t pronounce an ingredient doesn’t make it bad for you. In fact Durk Pearson, who graduated MIT with a triple major in physics, biology, and psychology, has suggested in his book “Life Extension“, that some preservatives are beneficial. You know all those anti oxidants that you seek out? What do you think a preservative is?

Chemicals, in and of themselves, are neither good nor bad. Your stomach makes Hydrochloric acid (HCI) to digest your food. Too much acid and you may choose to ingest lansoprazole ((RS)-2-([3-methyl-4-(2,2,2-trifluoroethoxy)pyridin-2-yl]methylsulfinyl)-1H-benzo[d]imidazole) also known as “Prevacid”. Or you might try Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3), the active ingredient in those chalky chewable antacids. Or you could just avoid foods that cause excess acid, which might be the most natural approach.

The word “organic” in chemistry refers to a chemical compound which contains carbon. ALL food is organic. Carbon is released with every breath. That carbon you exhale is inhaled by plants, which in turn exhale the oxygen that you need. Without carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, life could not exist.

All that exists is chemicals. The basic elements can only be created or destroyed by fission (unpopular) or fusion (not yet possible), we just move them around from one place to another. We are responsible for what we put into our bodies, whether we ingest it as solids, fluids, or gasses, and when we die, those chemicals will return to the cycle.

We live in a world where politicians control (and destroy) the educational system, and then provide the uneducated masses with false information.

Truth is only inconvenient if it gets in the way of your agenda. Otherwise, it’s just the truth.

Antiquities

A light article for a change.

 

I like old things, which is good as I become an old thing myself. There is something reassuring about old technology. Yes we can do it “better” by some measure today, but we managed to get there before in a simpler way.

I started with cameras. It was a natural, being a photographer, and where I lived there were a number of yard sales and antique shops that didn’t know what they had, so I built quite a collection. So many, I couldn’t display them all, so I ended up giving them to my son, who has them in his gallery.

Polaroids

Polaroids

This is mostly Polaroids, including a Kodak Colorburst. Most of them are in original packaging, and back when I had obtained them film was still available so I used each of them to get a feel for their limitations.

cameras 2

Nicer cameras

These are the nicer cameras of the collection, including my Grandfather’s Crown Graphic. He had taken my parents’ wedding photographs with that camera (I have a few of those as well), and there was a collection of backs, including a couple in five by seven format. When I was a child, my grandfather would let me play with the flash, which used the old magnesium bulbs.

Among with the various musical instruments I’ve collected have been a silver trombone (easier to play than I had thought) and the harmonica my first wife never touched after I picked it up and played the opening of “Piano Man” when she couldn’t get a clean note. When I started playing bass my (second) wife bought this beautiful amp for me.

Earth Research Laboratories "Revival"

Earth Sound Research “Revival”

I still have and use this amp (not often enough). Earth Sound Research was a tiny company producing all tube amps during the golden age of “louder”. The dials go up to twelve, one better than Nigel’s amp in Spinal Tap.

As I got older, I needed to get a computer. I wanted a way to save my writing, and I needed to catalog my growing comic book collection. Yes, I was collecting comic books at age thirty, I had become interested in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and had everything of theirs that had been published, from the entire series by Eastman and Laird to the Archie comics series, all the crossovers, action figures, and related materiel. I can be obsessive at times. I still follow Kevin Eastman’s work. Since my parents’ other son was a computer geek (he was the first one on his block with a one gigabyte hard drive) I went the other direction, getting a Kaypro II, one of the early “luggable” computers.

kayproii

The Kaypro II

The keyboard folded onto the body, and there was a carrying strap. It weighed almost thirty pounds, making “luggable” an accurate description. State of the art at one point, it had two five and a quarter inch floppy drives (single sided) and 64K of RAM. My Atari game console had more RAM. The operating system was C/PM, a pre-DOS configuration. For you non geeks out there, that’s less memory than your digital watch, and an operating system that was obsolete before Windows was invented. I used this computer until 1998, and there was still a healthy group of C/PM users, sharing programs through the mail. Real mail, not Email.

Today we live in what I call a “microwave” society. Waiting sixty seconds for water to boil is asking too much. Boiling water is too much. Music from two years ago is called “Golden Oldies”. “Instagram” creates photographs that appear old for people who have no idea what an f-stop is, or pigment fading. There is a pseudo respect for antiquities and little appreciation for technology that withstands the years. “New” is better, even when it isn’t.

Buzz words

There is something incongruous in modern culture. Okay, more than just one thing. In a world filled with time saving devices and an internet that provides all he information available in the world at our fingertips, people still choose to use abbreviations and buzz words rather than conveying information. I could never understand why, in an internet conversation, someone will say “google it” instead of providing the information, or at least a link to the information. And while I find some people’s idea that they need to question everything when they are dealing with a reliable source annoying, the tendency to believe everything presented by unknown or disreputable sources is astounding.

I understand the desire to “believe what you want to believe”, but why try so hard to deny what is obviously correct? When did it become more honorable to believe than to know?

I know there are countless examples, but the one that always stands out in my mind is Janet Reno‘s explanation for the Waco tragedy, “We did it for the children“. Hillary Clinton had made “for the children” an excuse for everything, but killing eighty people, including twenty one children “for the children” is rather difficult to swallow.

The new buzzwords are “fighting terrorism”. Anything is acceptable if it is for the cause of fighting terrorism. As long as you can define anyone as a terrorist, they have no rights. If you refuse to call someone a terrorist, whatever they do is acceptable. Picking up on this cue, both sides of the conflict in Egypt call each other terrorists.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying “They who give up essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”. Those should be our buzzwords. Presently we have abandoned several amendments to our constitution for that “temporary safety”, in order to “fight terrorism”.

We sit idly by as the government violates the first amendment, the second amendment, the third amendment, the forth amendment, the fifth amendment, I could go on, but the point is if you can’t see another violation of the constitution every day, you’re just not paying attention. Most of this started with the Patriot act, and once the snowball started rolling down the hill it just grew. All in the name of “fighting terrorism”, fueled by “what can we get away with”. A recent case exposed the existence of “secret courts“, in which the accused was ordered to comply or visit Guantanamo bay. This is how the government causes people to disappear. Pick them up, charge and try them in secrecy, and when found guilty off they go to Guantanamo bay as a terrorist, all in secret.

This is not to suggest that governments are the only ones asking you to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. The recent crises in Egypt resulted in this meme from unifying groups.

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Some people on the Occupy Wall Street page (which has become simply radical Muslim) posted a different image, with the top portion removed. These same people are the first to claim “media bias”, although during the Egyptian crises they have attacked Al Jazeera, both figuratively and literally. Al Jazeera has always been the media source used to refute American media outlets, the only trusted source in the Arab world. Someone has managed to remove the anti-Al Jazeera satirical cartoons and dissenting videos from the internet, so some exceptionally powerful forces are at work here. Interesting that Al Gore is doing business with Al Jazeera lately.

There are over one million words in the English language, There is no excuse for not explaining issues, particularly issues that directly affect our safety and freedom, in their totality. Unless of course, you’re lying about what you’re doing. Lately though, they’re not even bothering to lie, we just accept it “because it’s for a good cause”.  Like “for the children” or “to fight terrorism”.

Someone else did that, uniting a country towards a common cause, building that country from near ruin to a world power.

"Mother fight for your children"

“Mother fight for your children!”

As you read this, you are sitting in front of a computer. Use it. Listen to people you don’t agree with. Sift through the propaganda and find the truth, it is out there.

Unusual birthday gifts

I acknowledge that I am unusual, “eccentric” is the polite word but I really don’t mind “weird”. One of the benefits of being eccentric is that “normal” people tend to shy away from you. This leaves the path open for other eccentrics, so we tend to congregate, or at least associate. There are of course times when the eccentricities clash, but we’re usually friendly, accepting folk.

Knowing unusual people usually means peering into unusual families, we rarely sprout up without some kind of nurturing. When I was thirteen, one of my best friends was Otto, and while Germans aren’t odd in and of themselves, his family was very odd to me. The food and the language was the start, but the choice to bestow a thousand dollar oscilloscope on a thirteen year old as a birthday present left even me scratching my head.

I’m not sure why Otto wanted an oscilloscope, or if he even asked for it. This was 1972, and I think it had something to do with testing vacuum tubes, our eccentricities clashed and we found ourselves out of sync with each other shortly afterward. It was cool to hook up to his record player, and watch the waves as we played music. My favorite was the song “Popcorn”, which just told a story of its on on the CRT screen.

The experience piqued my interest in electronic music, which was just coming onto the scene. Walter “Wendy” Carlos had released “Switched on Bach” a few years earlier, and my Uncle Steve introduced me to the music of Isao Tomita a few years later. Tomita’s use of synthesizers is astounding, and using his covers of Debussy and Holst I introduced a number of friends to classical music. I read an interview with Tomita in which the interviewer commented that the clock on the wall was five hours slow, and Tomita replied “No, it’s seven hours fast”.

Synthesizers have changed immensely since then. From the banks of analog Moogs to the handheld Casios sold at K-Mart. Tomita still plays the Moogs, there is something about the combination of man and machine that transcends digital electronics.

Tomita in the 70s

Tomita in the 70s

Electronic music has also changed. From the early covers of classical music through arrangements developed to suit the capabilities of the instruments. As digital took the place of analog, synthesizers began replacing other instruments. even drum kits became electronic. The pendulum swung back and forth, from “No one played guitar” to “No Synths!” being seen as selling points for albums.

Today, what is called music ranges from a rapper talking over an actual artist’s recording, to the resurgence of traditional instruments as in the band “Ghengis Barbie“. Electronica is here to stay, it can be well crafted or garbage, and as has always been, one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure. I treasure my eccentric friends, and the paths they’ve opened to me.

Of all the things music is, it should always be fun.

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Tin foil hats

tin-foil-hat cautionTo me, there is little funnier than someone describing a person whose sanity is in doubt as wearing a “tin foil hat”. Although aluminum foil was first produced a century ago, and tin foil all but ceased to be manufactured after world war two, a reference to a product that more than likely has never been seen by the speaker is a measure of the other person’s sanity. “I’ll see your paranoia and raise you an anachronism”.

The original use of tin foil hats was to block “mind control rays”, because tin foil is fairly thick and isn’t a bad shield against electrons. Aluminum (by the way, how many syllables do you pronounce in “aluminum”?) is much thinner, but the right design might foil (sorry) the NSA if they’re listening to your brainwaves. I’d suggest this one.

foil hat

If the pleats are at the right frequency per inch, they should actually block transmissions. Doesn’t really matter, the NSA is following every keystroke on your computer, and apparently intercepting regular mail as well. Yep. We all knew that Washington DC bound mail is filtered through a facility in Virginia to check for Anthrax, Ricin, or any other chemicals, but on the news the other night discussing the Embassy closings, the government spokesman let it slip that some of the information intercepted was in the form of ground mail. Oddly, that clip is no longer available.

This is not to say that foil hats are going out of fashion, paranoia is always in vogue. If you decide to use aluminum foil, there are types that are bonded to paper. Put the paper side out, it makes you less noticeable in a crowd. As recently reported by that grand lady of journalism, Mother Jones, the Obama brain mapping project is a secret attempt at mind control. Apparently, you can wear a foil hat while operating video equipment:

I miss the old days, when “Secret” meant “Not on the six o’clock news”. Back when if someone was obviously a threat to the gene pool you could…oh but don’t let me get nostalgic.

I agree, every advance in science has been weaponized. This may be why education is in the shape it is, free thinking individuals are a threat to the state. Then again, almost every weapon of mass destruction has assembly directions on the internet, and a modest background in chemistry provides the recipes for explosives using items in your cleaning closet. Certainly, if the aim is controlling objects with the mind, the door to controlling the mind with objects will be wide open. But seriously, what technological advancements has this administration been successful with? They think evacuating a country is not retreating from terrorism. They’re definitely low tech buffoons, but start worrying if there’s a foil shortage.

As a rule of thumb, do not keep tin foil in the ice box, it tends to get brittle. You also shouldn’t pick it up with a carpet sweeper, tin is conductive and can generate a triboelectric charge. You can take your motorcar to the soda fountain and wrap your goods in tin foil while you shop at the record store for an album, if you still have a phonograph.

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You may choose to say “Aluminum” or “Aluminium”, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) uses both spellings (and pronunciations).

Today in history

After my second marriage, we honeymooned in the Poconos. It was an interesting week, and one thing stood out as we socialized with other couples at the resort. Our “special day” did not belong to us. Dozens of other couples had been married the same day, at that resort alone. No doubt thousands of other couples had been married on the same day as us around the world.

So it is with every momentous occasion, not only is the day shared with the entire human race, but the date is an anniversary for many events in history. Today, 6 August, is remembered as the day in 1181 that Japanese and Chinese astronomers observed a supernova, along with countless other events throughout the years. In 1945, the Australian Kieth Miller scored 110 in the Victory Test Cricket at Lord’s. Earlier that day, there was another supernova in Japan.

After assembling the greatest minds in physics, and just two weeks after the first test of a different design, we managed to transport a ten thousand pound package named “Little Boy” to Tinian, an airfield in the Northern Mariana Islands, for its six hour flight to Hiroshima, Japan upon the B-29 “Enola Gay”. Along with the aircraft carrying the package were two observation craft, “The Great Artiste” and “Necessary Evil”.

At 0815 local Little Boy began its forty three second descent to an altitude of two thousand feet, at which point a little over half a gram of matter was converted into energy. The math on that (E = mc^2) works out to the equivalent of sixteen thousand tons of TNT. In the next second, seventy thousand people died, including about ninety percent of the doctors who might have treated the survivors. Over the next few months, another hundred thousand died from the effects of radiation. Little Boy missed his target by eight hundred feet, fairly inconsequential considering the blast radius of one mile.

Silhouette of human within blast radius

Silhouette of human within blast radius

Three days later an implosion weapon, using the design that had been tested, destroyed the city of Nagasaki, Japan.

The site of the Mitsubishi Ohashi Weapons Plant, which was completely destroyed, 1.3 kilometers north of ground zero. Visible in the upper left are the ruins of the Yamazato Primary School and in the upper right is the gas storage tank of the Saibu Gas Co. in Ohashi-machi.

1.3 kilometers north of ground zero. Visible in the upper left are the ruins of the Yamazato Primary School.

Since that date no nuclear weapons have been used in anger. They have been considered “deterrents”, with America stockpiling seven thousand seven hundred warheads, Russia eight thousand five hundred, the United Kingdom two hundred twenty five, France three hundred, China two hundred fifty, India one hundred ten, Pakistan one hundred twenty, North Korea less than ten, and Israel eighty. That is what we’re aware of. The weapons have been shared through NATO to several European nations. That’s sixteen thousand, seven hundred ninety five nuclear weapons scattered around the globe, that we’re aware of. And while we were busy making everything else smaller, the yield of nuclear warheads got larger. With Little Boy measuring sixteen kilotons of TNT, the largest test detonations have gone up to fifty megatons of TNT. That would be over three thousand times as powerful as the weapon that destroyed everything within a one mile radius. For some reason, our precision targeting allows delivery within one meter.

I knew a man who had flown on one of the observation craft, thirty years later he was still shaken by the memory. Today, people with very short memories control weapons that exceed their imaginations.

Following the attacks on the World Trade Centers, a young man who worked with me asked if buildings “that tall” really exist. We were in Philadelphia, about ninety miles away, and he was unaware of the tallest buildings in the country. A reward of twenty five million dollars was offered for information about Osama bin Laden, in a country where the nominal per capita GDP was six hundred dollars. Hard to imagine an amount equal to over forty thousand times your GDP. I recall one person that was interviewed thought of it as enough money to buy a goat for everyone in his village. For fifty years following the bombings in Japan, our leaders encouraged the idea that we could survive a nuclear war. After the test of a two hundred kiloton weapon in China in 1974, Strontium 90 from the fallout was detected in cows in California.

I do not believe that the leaders of several nuclear states, and certainly no terrorist who illegally obtains a nuclear weapon, can imagine the damage the weapon will inflict. Nor do I believe in the concept of a “limited nuclear exchange” between states.

Nuclear weapons are not weapons of mass destruction, they are instruments of mass suicide.

I saw it on TV

And so it was. Every night a grandfatherly gentleman told us the monsters would stay under our beds for another night. He was the most trusted man in America for a large portion of the late twentieth century. History hasn’t judged him as kindly, for which we may thank Walter and his contemporaries. He was human, he was flawed, and he upheld most of the standards of the golden age of journalism.

As a nation, we turned from the newspaper to the television. When Walter said “And that’s the way it is”, we believed that we didn’t need to know anything more. There was no need to look any deeper. Today’s “joke”, “they can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true”, began as “they can’t put anything on television that isn’t true”. Only it wasn’t a joke back then, we believed it. Believing that what we saw on television had to be true is what made some people believe that the internet (a television) had the same standards.

An unexpected blow to the newspaper industry was recycling, as unread newspapers stacked up people realized there was no point in subscribing. With the decay of actual investigative reporting, “real” journalism became a thing of the past. “News” has been replaced by “Infotainment”, which has quickly been replaced by pure entertainment. So where is the news?

We have, unfortunately, regressed to word of mouth. Making things worse, we’re not all political analysts, for Christ’s sake we’re not all terribly bright, so discovering valid information and knowing what it means has become increasingly difficult. Being able to do something with that information is next to impossible.

I’m not big on the concept of conspiracies. If I was, there’s enough stuff out there to put me in a rubber room. Everyone with an opinion can publish a blog (you’re reading one now), a website with a unique domain name can be had for ten dollars a year, There are a lot of voices out there, who either don’t know what they’re talking about, or worse, they do and they’re lying to you. I include in this the media outlets who give sixty seconds of airtime to a laughing baby, but don’t get around to mentioning riots in Brazil. Omission is a class of lying in and of itself.

These are some of the reasons why credible sources use links, to take you to source material so you can determine accuracy yourself. I’ve always linked pertinent sources, but I’ve become aware that links are not very visible on this blog, so from this post forward I will underline any links to make them more noticeable.

I could tell there were alternate views of the situation in Egypt, the early days of democracy are bound to be difficult. To me, it seemed obvious that a democratically elected president being deposed by the military satisfied the criteria for “Military Coup“, despite the fact that a number of Egyptian contacts were calling it a “democratic process” or “anti-terrorism protests“, and our own government won’t call it a coup.

A few weeks ago, some outlets were reporting protests in Brazil. I have friends in Brazil (who I will in no way identify), so I asked what was going on. I can’t go into depth of the explanation without possibly revealing the source, but there is much more than a “protest against bus fares“. There are economic issues similar to those in America, and political unrest similar to Syria. Nonetheless, the civilian population was taking measures to ensure peaceful protests, including ostracizing trouble makers, and befriending the police.

No large gathering escapes the attention of hooligans, and things have gotten out of hand at times. You might have heard about it, unless you live in Brazil. According to my source, the only media news about the protests refers to the traffic jams. Not even that a protest caused the traffic jam, just that there is a traffic jam.

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My “meme” friends are into revolution, and conspiracies. According to my source, Brazil is experiencing neither, but these conflicts in reality give the meme folks some credibility. And this is where we run into a problem.

As our traditional media becomes less trustworthy, one way of verifying sources is “Have they been right before?”. I’m giving this one to the wanna be revolutionaries, with a reminder that there are other ways to verify a source. Consider what your source has to gain (in this case, supporting “revolutions” emboldens the timid). When people try to get you to back them in a fight, make sure they plan to be in front.

The other part of verification is the believability of the information itself. A secret UFO base under the Washington Monument is going to draw immediate furrowed brows, but let’s use the Egyptian example.

Was there a coup? Yes. Was it facilitated by the military? Yes. Why does the American government say it wasn’t a military coup? Because they’ve been providing equipment to the Egyptian military, and don’t want to be seen as “puppet masters”. But what about the word on the street? Since we have nothing more reliable than social media, we need to recognize that what we are hearing is opinions. The “people of Egypt” took to the street and demanded change. But who are the people of Egypt? In order to be a candidate in the election, one had to be of Egyptian parentage. Not just a citizen, but at very least a second generation citizen, without dual citizenship, and not married to a non-Egyptian. To vote, one only needed a national identity card. That ruled out about half the population. Democracy has many definitions, and the half that wasn’t eligible to vote can make a demonstration look like it expresses the will of “the people”. We face a similar dilemma in America, where were we to allow non citizens to vote we could settle the “National Language” question, we would be required to speak Spanish.

So the real question in Egypt is the legitimacy of the elections, and to determine that, we need to know who the legitimate voters are. My best source of information in the Middle East is Lebanese, and he ran from country to country making bad decisions on where the next revolution would be. I haven’t heard from him in a bit, so I suspect he made a tragically poor decision. All we have is the voice of social media. A demonstration in which sixteen people are killed would tend to get a lot of press if it happened in, say, Memphis, and I doubt it would be characterized as a “peaceful demonstration”, but to understand that aspect requires an “Arab mind”. Here’s one view into that mind.

It’s complicated. Too complicated for the evening news, more suited to a number of books, in tandem with some understanding of the culture of the applicable society. Contrary to the beliefs of many American politicians, understanding world affairs requires understanding the world.

Next question. Is there a “conspiracy” preventing you from understanding what is happening in the world, and if so, why?

Couldn’t stand the weather

The weather here is unusually warm. A string of days with sunshine and 24°C (76°F) days. We draw stares when we’re out walking in this heat.  We always bring odd weather with us, the 25 centimeters of snow the first time, the tropical storm during Pukelpop another. We visited relatives in Texas and it was cold. In 1979, I lived near Three Mile Island, in 1986, Lieve was at an outdoor concert near Chernobyl. I’m beginning to think there’s a connection.

I was having lunch with a vintner in the Finger Lakes region once, he was telling me how some years he’d be snowed in for months. I reminded him that the roads went South, and in fact I’d be traveling in that direction in just a few days if he needed a ride. I have often thought that the key to peace in the Middle East was air conditioning. It’s just too hot there, if they could cool down they wouldn’t be so cranky.

Weather is a subjective experience. We acclimate to our surroundings, and accept what some would call severe weather as normal. As human beings, we’re adaptable. We have inhabited every nook and cranny of this planet, we’ve set up habitats under the ocean and in outer space. These are good thing, the planet cycles through droughts and ice ages, species that cannot adapt face extinction. The surface of the planet shows wild shifts in temperature, sea levels, and vegetation over he ages. A number of people believe that an entire continent has sunk below the surface of the ocean, a little thought places Noah and the society of Atlantis at the same time.

That is our truth. it is neither convenient nor inconvenient, anymore than breathing oxygen is an annoyance. The climate changes routinely.

It is mainly ego, the impression that we are more important than we are, and isolation, the impression that for some reason we are separate from nature, that one incredible ego ignited the idea of “Global Warming”. The data is truly all over the place, but taxing society for existence is one of the greatest money making scams ever.  Wasn’t it just a few decades ago that Rachel Carson was warning of global cooling? Have we not gone through several decades of “connecting to Mother Earth”? And, in fact, have not global temperatures remained stable for the last sixteen years?

If it rains for a week, do you build an ark, or do you assume it will pass and collect the rainwater for the dry season ahead?

Our choices in diet do not alter the carnivorous habits of the rest of the species on Earth. Our choices on cruelty do not alter the way other species treat each other.  What we do, what we are, is nature. The only difference is whether we accept our place, or try to claim responsibility.Whether we curtail our use of fossil fuels, or use them up entirely, we will need to find a new source of energy (and plastic) within the next few decades.

We are humans, we will adapt.

 

 

 

 

 

Voyager

To give you an impression of the time that has passed, it was shortly after I graduated from High School that the Voyager probes were launched. With logic that can only be accredited to NASA, Voyager 2 was launched first, on 20 August 1977, and Voyager 1 was launched 5 September 1977. Traveling slightly faster, at 38,000 mph, Voyager 1 passed voyager 2, so that it will be the first man made vehicle to travel beyond our solar system. If we can determine where precisely our solar system ends,  Voyager 1 should cross the barrier at any time. We’ll receive the data about seventeen hours later, because that’s how long it takes for the signal to travel the eleven and a half billion miles.

There are literally millions of things to learn from the Voyager missions, but what I want to talk about today is perspective.

It has taken thirty six years to travel seventeen light hours. Last week, three potentially habitable planets were discovered orbiting a nearby star (Gliese 667C). Nearby meaning twenty two light years away. This would mean that traveling at the same speed as Voyager 1, it would take about three hundred seventy four thousand one hundred three years to reach these new found planets. To put that period of time into perspective, it was that many years ago the first neanderthals discovered Europe, Homo Sapiens did not yet exist.

This is not to say we might won’t come up with some innovation to allow us to cross the void in less time than it has taken to develop as a species. In the years since Voyager was launched, its technology has become somewhat antiquated, the symbol of which most will agree is the golden phonograph record attached to each.

golden_record_coverCertainly any advanced life form should understand how to retrieve the data from a phonograph. Just ask your average twenty year old computer geek. First ask them if they are aware of the existence of phonographic recordings.

Learning from its “inappropriate” plaques on the Pioneer probes, there were no anatomically correct images of human beings, we are a modest bunch, and who knows what we may have evolved into by the time any aliens follow the attached map back to Earth. There will be no history books to describe who the greeting voices on the record belong to, Kurt Waldheim seemed a natural as Secretary General of the United Nations, only a decade later did earthlings discover he had been complicit in NAZI atrocities during World War Two. Maybe the aliens will figure out that the intelligence that launched this minivan size probe into interstellar space was the whales, whose voices are also on the record.

This all assumes that something one day finds one of the Voyager probes. If Voyager 2 was the size of a needle, the haystack would be slightly larger than the planet Earth, and expanding every day. As Carl Sagan said, “The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this ‘bottle’ into the cosmic ‘ocean’ says something very hopeful about life on this planet.”. Did you know Carl was a friend Of Timothy Leary? Just sayin…

Voyager is literally in unknown territory, so predictions about what may happen next are based on…nothing. This is what “exploration” is all about.

Living in the age of Star Trek

One of the interesting things about spending time in hospitals is the technology. I found the MRI fairly incredible, a giant magnet aligns the nuclei of cells, then a radio frequency is applied which causes alterations in the rotation of the magnetic fields, and this can be detected to create a three dimensional image of the interior of your body. My latest MRI came back as a DVD, and I could manipulate the view and magnification to observe any point within my brain on my home computer.

Pretty amazing stuff, when you consider that the non invasive diagnostic tools for multiple sclerosis involved submerging the patient in hot water to see if the symptoms worsened. My diagnosis took a few weeks, I met others who had been witting years. Technology didn’t actually save their lives, it prevented their suicides. Being told “it’s all in your mind” takes a lot out of a person.

When Emma had cancer I saw all sorts of technology. The simplest was a “port”. Because chemo and other therapies can wear out your veins, a tube can be inserted into a large vein (the Jugular in this case) and routed to a port in your chest. A special needle (Huber needle) is used to pierce the port to apply chemo. At one point, Emma was receiving chemo twenty four hours a day. there was a cassette with the drugs that pumped them into her day and night for a week. Sleeping around the tubes and cassette was not easy, but we got through it. My biggest worry was that she would wake in the night and head to the toilet, yanking the external tubing, that never happened.

Endoscopy, the practice of putting a tube down your throat (or up your rectum) is surprisingly complex. This isn’t just a camera, there are different tips for collecting specimens, blades, brushes, positive and negative pressure fluid to clean the path. What amazed me was the path the scope can take. They were able to place an endoscope down her throat, and work it down to her pancreas. I’ve gone over the anatomy, and I just don’t see that path.

I was amazed with the DEXA scan, a low level x-ray that can determine bone density (I have osteoporosis). Just a little scanner passes over your body and the density in critical areas can be analyzed.

Prior to her surgery Emma underwent a couple of PET cans. This is really amazing Star Trek stuff. The Positron Emission Tomography scan is an incredible mixture of technologies. The most amazing to me is the computation. In Emma’s case, four different “dyes” or positron-emitting radionuclides were used. each is attracted to a different substance within the body. As the “dye” goes through beta decay, a positron (which is an anti particle) is emitted, which then interacts with an electron, annihilating it. The annihilation produces two gamma photons, traveling in opposite directions. When two photons reach the scanner simultaneously, the point at which they were created is calculated, and the point of the positron emission is calculated from that. Millions of photons are detected, and a three dimensional view of actual functioning organisms is revealed. PET scans can see into your brain, and detect which sections respond to different stimuli. Everything about this is cool.

There’s a procedure called CardioVascular and Interventional Radiology (CVIR), or just VIR when the heart is not involved, in which a probe is inserted to clear a vein, or any vessel (in Emma’s case they were working on the biliary tree). Guided by a scan, the probe is simply pushed through the tissue. sounds rather barbaric, and oddly cloaked in secrecy. They don’t talk about it, and the people who do it are radiologists. Had we actually known what it consisted of we might have been put off, but then surviving is a carrot almost anyone will chase.

One procedure we did skip was a lung needle biopsy. There was a question about nodules in Emma’s lungs, repeated scans had determined they were scar tissue and not tumors, but the question kept nagging one doctor who wanted to do a needle biopsy. The needle in this case is about a foot long (I know, it’s the diameter that matters, right?) and is guided to the nodule by CT scan. Keep in mind that this cannot be done in the CT scanner, so the patient has to hold her breath and not move from the time of the scan to the placement of the needle. With that information you can figure out that the patient must be fully conscious. We felt there was adequate data showing the nodules to be benign, and skipped the procedure.

All the advances in imaging allow innovations in treatments, but technology can never take the place of the doctors who implement it. No machine can replace the wisdom of a compassionate physician.