A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

Who is that fat bastard? A Sturm's Eye View, Guaranteed Free of Harmful, or Potentially Harmful Chemicals -- but Watch Out for the Ideas! Some of them are Contagious! 

A journal of sorts to record Jonathan Sturm's (and others') thoughts and observations on things worth thinking about. Feedback welcome, but be aware that unless you prominently say you want your communication kept private, I may publish it.

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Monday 2 July 2001

The apple orchard received its annual "haircut" today. Several of the trees were old enough that I removed a limb with the pruning saw so that I can grow a young lateral to replace it. The best fruit grows on young wood. The spur bearing varieties needed some spur thinning to reduce the amount of fruit thinning needed in the spring. I don't actually do much fruit thinning, preferring to thin the apple blossom with a pair of scissors. This diverts energy that would have made fruit into growing the tree and strengthening the following season's fruit buds. The fruit that sets is larger and more uniform in size. The labour of flower thinning is about the same as fruit thinning.

The ground that is to grow first early potatoes I sprinkled with commercial pelletised chicken manure, then covered over with black polythene. This will allow the weeds (mainly grass) to die and rot. The polythene warms the ground some, allowing a slightly quicker growth when the tubers are planted next month.


A message on the telephone when I return to the cottage. I have an interview for the position I applied for last week. So it's off to the city on Wednesday to see what they have to offer.


A story in The Reg has Australians being called bizarre. And it's true. But I hear that the UK has passed a law that you can now be sued by the family of a burglar for loss of income if you intemperately attempt to protect your property. And it's not so long ago that a Chicago judge charged with perjury in her own court dismissed the charge against her. The whole world is bizarre, and getting more so by the week.

Thought for the day:

To the excessively fearful the chief characteristic of power is its arbitrariness. Man had to gain enormously in confidence before he could conceive an all-powerful God who obeys his own laws.

Eric Hoffer


Tuesday 3 July 2001

Maya Angelou wrote: "I find it interesting that the meanest life, the poorest existence, is attributed to God's will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend the material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at a commensurate speed."

The rationalist argument is that given enough scientific insight, benefits of science (affluence), and democracy, the ultimate result is a Utopian, atheist society. Partly this is based on the lack of a proof for the existence of God that doesn't contain at least one logical fallacy. Belief in God becomes an act of pure faith -- irrational, rather than rational. And the truly rational must therefore reject the concept of God. After all, even those who acknowledge the existence of God cannot agree on the nature of God. Not even inside a particular faith system.

The problem here is that even the most rational of the planet's inhabitants have at least some aspects of their lives based on faith. Evidence of this comes from similar lack of agreement on aspects of science. Global warming for instance. When I was a university student in the 1960s, global cooling and an imminent ice age was the most popular scenario. Was this sea change caused by the accumulation of better data, or better analysis of that data? Not according to the climatologists who contribute to John Daly's website.

The other great scientific fad that appears based more on faith than good science is The Big Bang Theory. One of the earliest problems of this theory was that there wasn't enough observable matter in the universe. So "dark matter" (undetectable and therefore an act of faith) was introduced to make the sums come out right. The ratio of hydrogen to helium comes out right with one set of parameters, but doesn't produce the correct amount of all other elements. Changing the parameters to produce the correct ratio between hydrogen and helium to all other elements, produces the wrong ratio between hydrogen and helium.

To make matters worse, astronomers mapping the distribution of stars have shown a high level of structure. That is, the stars are far from randomly, or uniformly distributed in the observable universe. The time required to produce that level of structure from the singularity of The Big Bang? Around 30 billion years or so. Twice the age of the universe according to Big Bang theorists.

Please not that this is not an attack on science. It's proven to be the most useful tool so far for improving our wellbeing. What science certainly is not is all that's worth knowing. Or even reality. Science consists of the creation of models in our minds based on observation and relationships between observations that allow us to make useful predictions about previously unobserved relationships. Of course it's directly opposed to the "complete religion in a can" approach of so many evangelists that knock on my door. (Why is it that so many of them are American? Have they decided that their fellow Americans are not worth the bother?)

Behavioural neuroscientist Dr. M. A. Persinger discovered a way to stimulate the brain of his subjects, simulating the religious experience reported by many mystics throughout the literature of spiritual thought. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in an available product. (This site covers a lot of interesting consciousness stuff). There are of course those who use the availability of such a technology to claim that "it's all in the mind -- ergo, God doesn't exist". It's just as arguable that we have a God-given "organ" in the brain in order to perceive God. One wonders whether such a device is going to become illegal, just as LSD, mescalin, marijuana and other drugs that have a similar effect have been. After all, it's just as much a threat to established church incomes. We already know the leaders of many faith systems would like to make direct communication with God, rather than by the approved priesthood, an offence. 

Thought for the day:

If someone were to prove to me -- right this minute -- that God, in all his luminousness, exists, it wouldn't change a single aspect of my behaviour.

Luis Bunel


Wednesday 4 July 2001

Years ago, I used to share a house in a rural district north of Hobart. My landlord and best friend was an American, though he claims his early childhood in Puerto Rico means he's at least 50% Spanish. When he was in Spain, a companion told him he was 50% Spanish, 50% American and 50% Australian. When my friend said that adds up to more than 50%, the Spaniard said, "Si". The point of this story on this day: Well, my friend was a high school teacher and he was becoming increasingly frustrated by the "system" getting in the way of the real purpose of school -- education. So he resigned. And when he returned home he told me. When I pointed out the date, we both burst into fits of laughter, because of course it was American Independence Day.

Happy birthday America, land of the free lunch. Thank you for sending us such interesting people to live here in the land of the long lunch.

Thought for the day:

Nature never said to me: Do not be poor; still less did she say: Be rich; her cry to me was always: Be independent.

Sebastien-Roch Nicolas De Chamfort


Thursday 5 July 2001


Thought for the day:

Somebody's boring me. I think it's me.

Dylan Thomas


Friday 6 July 2001

I spent most of yesterday searching for a CD that I assumed was buried somewhere in this mess that I jokingly refer to as an office. It's a music CD of an unreleased song called In A Field In France written by my friend Gary Paige and recorded by Jimmy Little in England a few months ago. I found the CD of the first mix in which the lyric is almost inaudible; I found the Kevin Johnson recording of the song; I found the rendition by a local men's choir! I telephoned Gary at work to tell him that I needed his original CD to burn the copies he needs tonight. The woman who answers the phone excuses herself to find a pen to write my message down. It turns out that she only pretended to write the message down. Gary guessed my identity on the remarkably few remnants of the message she remembered less than 5 minutes later. Perhaps the message was too complicated: "Ask Gary to call Jonathan about the CDs".

The last lot of CDs I duplicated had some noise for the first few seconds into the song. The noise sounds remarkably like the transients caused by small scratches on a vinyl record. Usually, I copy from a 40x IDE drive to my 4x SCSI writer. Using the writer to extract the data eliminates the noise problem, but of course it's a lot slower. My son has "borrowed" the spare CD drive and since we scrupulously maintain our own machines and never fuck with each others', I must wait until the weekend to do a swap. The misbehaving drive is likely good enough to play music CDs.

Thomas is always pretty well tuckered out after college. He leaves here at 7am and sometimes doesn't return home until after 6 pm. The bus leaves college at precisely 4.01 pm and some classes don't finish until 4.00 pm. The bus driver leaves regardless whether he knows the students he is paid to transport are delayed or not. Piffle! Thomas then has to walk into the city and catch the commuter bus at 5.25pm.

The replacement floorboards arrived Tuesday, but they were thicker and narrower than the ones they were replacing. The same dimensions in fact as the original order! You can't mix and match floorboards so they went back the following day. Extra piffle!

The job interview on Wednesday was interesting. The interviewer, Guy, said it was the best job application he had ever read. This was not a surprise to me as I worked hard at helping clients in the Job Clubs I ran a few years ago. The résumé is an advertising brochure to persuade the employer to read the job application and the job application's purpose is to persuade him or her to interview you. It's not at all certain that we can meet each others' needs. I am overskilled for the position and uncertain about full-time work. Nevertheless we had a great chat and at the end I suggested that Guy might care to engage my services outside the job description as a consultant. He averred that the same thought had crossed his mind.

It looks like my life of short contracts and wildly fluctuating income is set to continue for the rest of my productive life. This bothers me little, but She Who Must Be Obeyed finds the lean times difficult.


From Jan Svenson:

>... So "dark matter" (undetectable and therefore an act of faith) was introduced ... Undetectable doesn't imply faith.

Dict: Faith : n. 1 complete trust or confidence. 2 firm, esp. religious, belief. 3 religion or creed (Christian faith). 4 loyalty, trustworthiness. [Latin fides] Which implies that no questions should or even can be asked.

'Dark matter' has nothing to do with that. The use of 'dark matter' is more an indication that we don't know yet. We know that we don't see all the matter there is, some is dark, invisible. We also know that our equations are not correct (imperfect or completely wrong). The Big Bang theory (and others like the Evolution theory or indeed the theory of Global Warming) are not based on faith but on assumption. If some of these assumtions proves to be wrong the theory either gets adapted or replaced. With faith the 'assumtions' cannot be disproved.

Of course once a theory escapes the scientific community and finds its way into the press it becomes a Theory. And the assumptions are cleanly mixed up with the facts.

>... Have they decided that their fellow Americans are not worth the bother?) Yes, and (in most cases) rightly so <g>

-- Svenson.

Mail at work : qjsw@oce.nl, or call : (Oce HQ)-4727 Mail at home : sjon@svenson.com

I think that dark matter *is* about faith, or at least very suspiciously like it. I read justifications like "it must be true because our equations are so beautiful". Then I see the continual addition of "fudge factors" to the model with the only justification that it makes the sums come out right... Like the laws of physics were different and changed over time.

There is an alternative model of the universe based on plasma physics. Doesn't require the "deus ex machina" of dark matter and changing the laws of physics. It doesn't even need Relativistic effects. But The Big Bang Theory makes the Pope very happy and keeps lots of mathematicians in work.


Top Ten Problems with The Big Bang Theory

  1. Static universe models fit the data better than expanding universe models.
  2. The microwave "background" makes more sense as the limiting temperature of space heated by starlight than as the remnant of a fireball.
  3. Element abundance predictions using the big bang require too many adjustable parameters to make them work.
  4. The universe has too much large scale structure (interspersed "walls" and voids) to form in a time as short as 10-20 billion years.
  5. The average luminosity of quasars must decrease with time in just the right way so that their mean apparent brightness is the same at all redshifts, which is exceedingly unlikely.
  6. The ages of globular clusters appear older than the universe.
  7. The local streaming motions of galaxies are too high for a finite universe that is supposed to be everywhere uniform.
  8. Invisible dark matter of an unknown but non-baryonic nature must be the dominant ingredient of the entire universe.
  9. The most distant galaxies in the Hubble Deep Field show insufficient evidence of evolution, with some of them apparently having higher redshifts (z = 6-7) than the faintest quasars.
  10. If the open universe we see today is extrapolated back near the beginning, the ratio of the actual density of matter in the universe to the critical density must differ from unity by just a [single] part in 10^59. Any larger deviation would result in a universe already collapsed on itself or already dissipated.

For a great exposition on the problems of Big Bang, Eric J Lerner's book, The Big Bang Never Happened makes fascinating reading, as do the reviews at Amazon.

Thought for the day:

When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn't work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.

Emo Phillips


Saturday 7 July 2001

Today is allocated to fixing a friend's Win98SE box. It GPFs regularly. Then I need to replace the ailing IDE CD reader in the server that I use for copying CDs. After that, I must replace the 10 Mb/s NIC in my workstation and replace it with a new 100 Mb/s NIC. Just after I wrote the above, the workstation (Win2k Pro sp2) locked up while it read or wrote interminably to the hard disk. It has done this intermittently for some time, generally for 30-60 seconds. This time it lasted for ever and when I checked back, there was a Blue Screen telling me that it was a KERNEL-STACK-INPAGE-ERROR. Bother! A warm boot resulted in the primary hdd being not found. A cold boot brought the system up and I removed RealPlayer and associated software I installed to play a RealAudio track I wanted to listen to. Whenever I install Real's stuff, BAD THINGS always ensue.

Also it's filling in forms for the government time: income tax, quarterly business activity (or inactivity in my case) and building activity. Piffle!


Sjon Svenson wrote:

Most of the scientific theories are not at all based on faith but do accuire, after a time lots of 'faithfulls'. Especially when they concern big concepts.

In the old days (Newton, LaPlace, ...) each phenomen got its own theory. Like when you start a giant puzzle putting individual or small groups of tiles on the table. Most of these theories and 'laws' were simple. Simple enough for even uneducated people to understand. Today people are looking for 'the' theory that can explain everything. And of course it should be a simple one to explain. No luck yet. There are always facts escaping the simple explanation. So in stead of dunping the simple theory and come up with a new better one (not realy trivial) people tend to add special cases and extensions till the whole structure becomes unrealstic. At which point faith becomes a factor in keeping the whole thing from imploding. Untill a better solution bubles up.

It's a fact that most people have a poor to non-existent science education and consequently all of science/technology is a matter of faith rather than understanding. But my problem is with a subset of scientists themselves. My hero, Richard Feynman epitomises good science:

He always insisted on being able to visualise what he was working on, but was careful not to confuse the visual model with reality. While the models we make to do our sums may produce useful results, an atomic bomb for instance, it does not mean that the model is anything more than just a useful model.

Feynman always spent a lot of time with the experimenters, both for input and suggesting new experiments to confirm or deny the usefulness of his models at prediction of unexpected outcomes. The Big Bangers and Global Climate Modellers do not do this. While it's difficult to imagine experiments for these two groups, their work needs to match reality rather than what we find -- attempts to persuade the observers to tailor their observations to fit the models.

And Matthew Harting wrote:

I saw your listing about problems with the big bang theory. I would say in simple terms it doesn't make sense. Take for example: put all the materials of The House of Steel in a pile with some dynamite. Blow up the dynamite. Do you get a house or a mess?

Also, the big bang flies in the face of one of the laws of thermodynamics (third?). I was thinking of the one on entropy that says everything leads to disorder unless some effort for order is made. College physics was many years ago and I don't remeber the specifics too well.

Just wanted to give you a couple more examples of why the big bang doesn't work.

Matt Harting http://psslabs.webjump.com

Your first point is not a problem of the Big Bang Theory. We are dealing here with a very large system over a very long time span. My problem is more to do with the beginning in a perfect singularity that should have created a much more uniform spread of matter and energy than what we observe.

It's the second law of thermodynamics and entropy is conserved only in a closed system. The order we observe occurring here on planet earth is offset by increasing entropy on the sun for instance. Good discussion of the issues here.

Thought for the day:

To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.

William Blake


Sunday 8 July 2001

My friend's Win98SE box turns out to have a problem with Norton AntiVirus 5. Whether a reinstall of NAV or a clean install will fix the problem remains to be seen. Replacing the 40x A-Open CD drive on my CD burning box with an older A-Open 24x drive hasn't worked. If I access the drive before running Nero, I can read the contents. When running Nero, the contents are inaccessible and remain so after closing Nero. I think it's time to purchase a new spare IDE CD drive, one that supports audio extraction so I no longer need to do that with the burner. My workstation continues to misbehave -- uninstalling RealAudio and its associated apps now generates errors in the startup log. Specifically, they are hard disk errors associated with paging! Coincidence? Time to run Seagate's diagnostics on the drive.

Thought for the day:

The human spirit is your specifically human dimension and contains abilities other creatures do not have. Every human is spiritual; in fact, spirit is the essence of being human. You have a body that may become ill; you have a psyche that may become disturbed. But the spirit is what you are. It is your healthy core.

Joseph Fabry


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© Jonathan Sturm 2001

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© Jonathan Sturm 2001