Ephemerides

A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

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Monday 19 August 2002

The Git has decided to apply to the University of Tasmania to become a student. There are many reasons for this, some financial, but the lure of access to the libraries is uppermost in The Git's mind. He plans to do a BA commencing with History, Ancient Civs, Philosophy and Journalism/Media Studies.

-oOo-

The keepers of the scientific faith in protecting us from lunatic fringe heretics such as Immanuel Velikovsky have the unfortunate habit of conflating all heretics. Scientific revolutions proceed from explanations of anomalies. Within a discipline, anomalies are usually covered by ad hoc explanations until the sheer weight of them becomes too much to bear. While this is happening, there's usually someone young, adventurous and imaginative enough to have already laid the groundwork for an alternative hypothesis.

Alfred Wegener (1880-1930) was a brilliant cross-disciplinary scientist who proposed the theory of plate tectonics. The impact of this idea on geology, geophysics, oceanography, and palaeontology was eventually immense, but his 1915 book: Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane (The Origin of Continents and Oceans) had only recently become accepted when The Git was still a tadpole in the 1950s.

Perhaps Alfred Wegener's greatest contribution to the scientific world was his ability to weave seemingly dissimilar, unrelated facts into a theory, which was remarkably visionary for the time. Wegener was one of the first to realize that an understanding of how the Earth works required input and knowledge from all the earth sciences.

Alfred Wegener's sin was to have been "a mere astronomer and meteorologist". No geologist, geophysicist, oceanographer, or palaeontologist in their right mind was about to support his ideas. To do so would have been tantamount to professional suicide. Of course, eventually the establishment's complex ad hoc explanations that Wegener's theory explained simply became too much for all but the most Procrustean diehards. While Wegener gained his doctorate in 1905, it wasn't until 1928 that he managed to realise a lifelong ambition, appointment to a university post, a professorship at the University of Graz in Austria. 

When looking for scientific revolutionaries, it helps to look outside the establishment. Einstein was working in the patent office in Bern when he completed an astonishing range of theoretical physics publications, written in his spare time without the benefit of close contact with scientific literature or colleagues. Charles Darwin's initial training was in medicine, before he trained for the clergy. Pierre de Fermat was the son of a leather-merchant and entirely educated at home. Galileo studied medicine at the university of Pisa, but is chiefly remembered for his work in physics, astronomy and his employment of experimentation. Nicolaus Copernicus studied mathematics as part of medicine. In those days medicine depended very much on astrology. Copernicus eventually practised medicine, though his official employment was as a canon in the cathedral. And I bet you thought he was an astronomer!

-oOo-

Lessons From History

Sometimes, the history was never there to begin with. Other times, lessons from history are wrong because nobody has bothered to look at the facts.

Where guns are involved, people are beginning to look. Bentley College historian Joyce Malcolm looked deeply at the roots of America's right to arms in a 1994 book published by Harvard University Press, entitled To Keep and Bear Arms: The Origins of an Anglo-American Right. That book explained that the right to arms enshrined in the Constitution's Second Amendment was not merely the product of a "frontier mentality," as some gun-control proponents have suggested, but the outgrowth of a long and well-established English tradition favoring an armed citizenry as a defense against tyranny.

HOW THE NEW HOMELAND SECURITY DEPARTMENT WILL WORK by Jonathan Rauch 

In a new breed of government agency--as seen from the year 2004--global terrorism meets its match.

Thought for the day:

The difference between heresy and prophecy is often one of sequence. Heresy often turns out to have been prophecy -- when properly aged.

Hubert H. Humphrey

Current Listening

Tom Lehrer -- Songs of Tom Lehrer


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Tuesday 20 August 2002

The Git has decided to stick his neck out and make a prediction. With the recent publication by Paul Davies et al that the speed of light is not the previously held sacrosanct constant we all thought, The Git predicts that we are about to enter the "we knew it all along" phase of a paradigm shift. 

While on the subject of prediction, it's worth mentioning that successful prediction is supposedly one of the hallmarks of acceptability of scientific theories.  Some years ago, I came across the work of Hannes Alfven, a Nobel Prize-winner.

According to some scientists and philosophers of science, a theory is or should be judged by its ability to make successful predictions. This paper examines a case from the history of recent science -- the research of Hannes Alfven and his colleagues on space plasma phenomena -- in order to see whether scientists actually follow this policy. Tests of five predictions are considered: magnetohydrodynamic waves, field-aligned ('Birkeland') currents, critical ionization velocity and the existance of planetary rings, electrostatic double layers, and partial corotation. It is found that the success or failure of these predictions had essentially no effect on the acceptance of Alfven's theories, even though concepts such as 'Alfven waves' have become firmly entrenched in space physics. Perhaps the importance of predictions in science has been exaggerated; if a theory is not acceptable to the scientific community, it may not gain any credit from successful predictions. 

Brush, Stephen G.; "Prediction and Theory Evaluation," Eos, 71:19, 1990

William McComas has addressed the issue of myths in science. Here's his Ten Myths of Science: Reexamining What We Think We Know... from Vol. 96, School Science & Mathematics.

-oOo-

NUCLEAR BOMBS WILL NOT SAVE THE EARTH! 

Not too long ago, geologists adamantly denied that there were any large meteor craters pock marking our planet. Now, they find 100-kilometer craters on a regular basis. And scientists are casting worried looks at those near-earth asteroids, knowing that one day one will be on a collision course.

Not to worry, say the modern-day Technocrats, we will launch nuclear armed rockets that will nudge such cosmic threats into harmless trajectories.

These Pollyannas are presumptuous. They assume that asteroids are hard, cohesive objects that will be shoved aside by a few megatons of explosive energy. There are two things wrong with this idea, and these reveal how radically our ideas about the nature of asteroids have changed in just 10 years.

-oOo-

From My Inbox:

Thanks for the link to Gatto's essay, Jonathan. If I were as literate I would have written it under a title like 'How I Went To Prison _before_ I Committed a Felony'.

You may be acquainted with this, but it certainly sums up the flavor:

THE MEMOIRS OF JESSE JAMES

I remember all those thousands of hours that I spent in grade school watching the clock, waiting for recess or lunch or to go home. Waiting: for anything but school. My teachers could easily have ridden with Jesse James for all the time they stole from me.

From: Richard Brautigan, Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt

Best Regards Dave

And from Mark Zimmermann

Hi Jonathan! Tnx much for your well-written and thoughtful post of 12 August (re your long-ago job as a model), and for the pointer to DOMAI ... it's refreshing to see artistic representations of beauty rather than the cheap and undifferentiated raunchiness which so often seems to be the Web's least-common-denominator standard nowadays.

And in particular I salute your remark:

The Git remembers laughing at an old man these many years since for declaring everyone to be an artist. Having successfully lost the blinkers of youth, I can now declare that to be almost true. Everyone certainly has the ability to be an artist, but for reasons that escape me, most are discouraged in their attempts by often well-meaning people. Since The Git has found nothing to quite equal the feelings engendered by creativity, this saddens him.

But I don't know if the key problem is so much discouragement by other people, often, as it is inability to make time for what's important in life --- things such as art, conversation, friendship, wisdom, etc. (the list varies for every individual, and changes over time). Many people have almost no time for creativity because of poverty, ill health, commitments to family or work, etc., etc. --- but I suspect that, more commonly, lots of time is available but gets wasted on ephemeral things. I'm more guilty than anybody I know in that department. (And I keep telling myself to do better, e.g., 

http://zhurnal.net/ww/zw?BasementWorries or 
http://zhurnal.net/ww/zw?ComplexSimplicity or 
http://zhurnal.net/ww/zw?IdeasLikeSparks or 
http://zhurnal.net/ww/zw?BennettOnLife or 
http://zhurnal.net/ww/zw?PersonalEnergy or ...)

Getting back to the specific theme of figure drawing: over the past few years I've begun accumulating books that seem to me (in my state of ignorance) to have some potential to teach me ... some day (perhaps in a decade, when I hope to "retire") I can start really working through them ... meanwhile, they're fun to browse. If you like this sort of thing you may want to check out: 

* Figures/Faces (Hugh Laidman) 
* Drawing with an Open Mind (Ted Seth Jacobs) 
* Realistic Figure Drawing and Drawing the Female Figure (Joseph Sheppard) 
* The Artist's Complete Guide to Figure Drawing (Anthony Ryder) 
* Drawing the Female Nude (Giovanni Civardi)

Most of these are available at big savings via the online used-book market; some are out of print and may be harder to find. (Disclaimer: I am not expert enough in this subject to be at all authoritative --- but my wife, who has studied and worked as an artist, generally seems to think that these books aren't too bad.) Any others that you could recommend to me?

Feel free to use this note, or excerpts thereof, as usual Jonathan ... and tnx again! (^_^)

Best, ^z = Mark Zimmermann = http://www.his.com/~z/ ZhurnalWiki = http://zhurnal.net

Thanks for your post of August 16 (Scientific Revolutions) even though it gave me the opportunity to disagree somewhat.

Regarding drawing, I don't think there is any substitute for doing it -- preferably lots of it. As is usual, there are two contrary viewpoints. One is that you can waste a lot of time reinventing the wheel when a little tuition is all you really needed. The opposite of this is that this tends to confine your thinking to the well-worn when you may have discovered something new. Of course this analysis applies to far more than art!

One of the Git's drawings is available here in ZIP format. It's intended for printing and doesn't look very good on-screen.

Thought for the day:

Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty -- some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely sure.

Richard Feynman

Current Listening

The Bushwackers -- Dance Album


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Wednesday 21 August 2002

Following on from yesterday's prediction, John Maddox (editor of Nature) predicted the downfall of The Big Bang within ten years

"Down with the Big Bang," Nature, 340: 425, 1989

If someone with as fine a mind got it wrong, what chance does The Git stand?

-oOo-

Theo Theocharis is one of several scientists sceptical of the claims of Special Relativity:

By denying truth and reality, science is reduced to a pointless, if entertaining, game; a meaningless, if exacting, exercise; and a destinationless, if enjoyable, journey."

Theocharis, T., and Psimopoulos, M.: "Where Science Has Gone Wrong," Nature, 329:595, 1987

-oOo-

THE UNCERTAINTY OF KNOWLEDGE

"Human beings of all societies in all periods of history believe that their ideas on the nature of the real world are the most secure, and that their ideas on religion, ethics and justice are the most enlightened. Like us, they think that final knowledge is at last within reach. Like us, they pity the people in earlier ages for not knowing the true facts. Unfailingly, human beings pity their ancestors for being so ignorant and forget that their descendants will pity them for the same reason." E. Harrison, who penned the above, sees knowledge as perpetually uncertain and always changing. Scientists will always be surprised, he says, and scientific laws are never final.

 He concludes:

"I feel liberated by this philosophy. I find comfort in the thought that the creative mind fashions the world in which we live. For it means that the mind and reality are more profound than we normally suppose." 

Harrison, Edward: "The Uncertainty of Knowledge," New Scientist, p. 78, September 24, 1987

The Git shares his feelings. Perhaps part of the reason for the false feeling of superiority to our predecessors is lack of appreciation for past achievements by our ancestors.

-oOo-

"The discovery, made by psychologist Diana Deutsch of the University of California at San Diego, concerns pairs of tones that are a half octave apart. When one tone of a pair, followed by a second, is played, some listeners hear the second tone as higher in pitch than the first. Other people, hearing the same tones, insist that the second tone appears to be lower in pitch."

Peterson, I.: "Do You Hear What I Hear?" Science News, 130:391, 1986

This introduces a problem for science that is rarely acknowledged. To be scientifically valid, observations must be reproducible. One might have assumed that all listeners would have heard the same thing. Other inconsistencies between people's perceptions include smells clearly perceptible to some, but not to those never exposed to those smells while infants. Could some things denied by science as paranormal, such as auras, be similar phenomena? We can't see them because our brains were wired differently in infancy.

Thought for the day:

I wouldn't have seen it if I hadn't believed it.

Old Geologist's Saying

Current Listening

Chick Corea -- Music Magic


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Thursday 22 August 2002

One thing you never get from scientific papers is the thinking that goes on behind the scene of a scientist's work -- what led to the experiments and conclusions. Occasionally, there's an exceptional book like James Watson's The Double Helix, as fascinating as any work of fiction. It was refreshing to come across this much shorter piece by Paul Pietsch on his and Carl Schneider's experiments with salamanders and intelligence.

Triclops, of course, doesn't resolve the nature-nature controversy about IQ. (I personally doubt that any number of facts really would.) The experimental facts do tell us dramatically how misleading surface events can be in the quest of wisdom about even humble minds. Triclops forced my retreat from an arrogance science sometimes engenders among its practitioners and forced me to admit something Carl had espoused long before: Nature is bigger and grander than science. Maybe I would have said as much earlier, but Triclops made me believe it.

Thought for the day:

The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. Instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views... which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.

Doctor Who

Current Listening

Howard Werth -- 6ix of 1ne and 1/2 a Dozen of the Other


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Friday 23 August 2002

An interesting email from John Dominick:

Congratulations on your decision to return to Student-hood. I've been struggling annually with the desire to return and complete my degree, if only to stack up the bricks I'd kicked over previously in my impetuous youth. So it goes.

On Monday, you also mentioned to look outside the discipline for scientific revolutionaries... I've long thought that - mostly because I hate being told what to think. It seems to me that one specializes to the narrow degree that one must to become an acknowledged expert in a field, one must listen to those who "know better" and deviations from the acceptable are verboten.

I experienced some of the flip side of this issue many years ago when I discovered one of my "friends" was a pathological liar. At first, his stories were likeable, believable, and verifiable. They grew, and I grew lax in fact checking. After many months of his quite-comfortable company (we got along well - like brothers), I encountered a factoid about him which did not fit the profile. Given my early suspicions, I checked the factoid out. It was true. Much of what he had told me otherwise was not. I found myself questioning a LOT of things I thought I "knew" and spent several months re-verifying much of what I knew in the computer world (it was the first thing on the list), and that "verification" grew into a career. I never did thank him for it, but he did me a favor.

I wonder if many of today's scientists are reluctant to perform the same? Question all of their deep-seated beliefs based on one incongruous factoid that doesn't fit their sacred theory? Most seem happy to ignore the factoid and move on. Then again, with a 30-year career riding on the assumptions, I might react the same way they do - don't rock the boat until the pension kicks in.

Good luck, and buy your textbooks used - same answers, same words, already read (and in some cases highlighted), and sometimes only half the price of the original highway robbery. Then again, extortion with a 50% discount is still extortion, in my book... 

John Dominik -- http://jdominik.rearviewmirror.org/current.html

Discovering someone you like and respect has feet of clay is never a pleasant experience. Going back over what he thought he knew is something The Git has done over and over again the field of science. Each time, the end result of his researches has been different. What leads us astray are the assumptions we make. Fewer assumptions means firmer ground to stand on. The Git is eternally grateful for his mother's emphasis on questioning assumptions.

Rigid adherence to belief is like the stopped clock that's correct twice a day. Flexibility in belief is like the watch that's always too slow, or too fast. Never entirely correct, but the approximation is more workable.

The Git remember it took weeks of work to pay the purchase price of Resnick and Halliday in 1969. Second hand copies were non-existent!

-oOo-

SATELLITES SHOW OVERALL INCREASES IN ANTARCTIC SEA ICE COVER

While recent studies have shown that on the whole Arctic sea ice has decreased since the late 1970s, satellite records of sea ice around Antarctica reveal an overall increase in the southern hemisphere ice over the same period. Continued decreases or increases could have substantial impacts on polar climates, because sea ice spreads over a vast area, reflects solar radiation away from the Earth's surface, and insulates the oceans from the atmosphere.

This is not what the climate modellers predicted!

-oOo-

Hi,

I can not find web document where is HP Printer Memory Explained on the URL http://people.delphi.com/sbehrens/hpmem.htm becauce they moved, so I am asking you to send me this document on my email, if you have it.

Sergej

The piece is about how to convert ordinary SIMMS to HP printer memory SIMMS, something The Git successfully did a year, or so ago. Here it is. He found it using The WayBack Machine.

Good luck -- let me know how you get on :-)

-oOo-

The Git lodged his and Mrs Git's taxation returns electronically this year. The software continually produced a dialog box saying "Integer Error". Left running for a day, there would be at least a dozen of them to close! Closing the application resulted in the closing of the task bar requiring the stopping and restarting of explorer to return it. Ah well, at least it runs under Win2k this year rather than crashing as it did last year!

-oOo-

Tnx, Jonathan, for your kind note & posting! --- disagreement is good, IMHO; it offers a chance to learn & to test one's beliefs ... I definitely have some gentle-and-gentlemanly differences with you on several fronts, esp. in areas where I think you're off course ... for instance, global warming is a "maybe, likelier true than not, but debatable" in my current judgment, and many of those who argue against it seem to be driven by political/philosophical prejudices rather than reason (as are many who seem to favor it for the wrong reasons, of course) ...

Alas, most phreak physics gets a rating of "probably wrong and definitely uninteresting" --- esp. when the iconoclasts are hacking away at points (e.g., foundations of quantum mechanics) where there's a vast, coherent body of evidence in favor of something like the current orthodoxy ... and yes, the "ScientificRevolutions" ^zhurnal musing was triggered by my attempts to read a couple of the sites that Ephemerides led me to ... so you get credit (or blame) for provoking me on that one! (^_^)

In any event, I continue to gradually work through the sites on your Other Thinkers' Websites page of pointers ... tnx for sharing them, and tnx for the annotations/comments/caveats that you include.

BTW, I'm pretty simpleminded on HTML and web page design, so the change to the Ephemerides entry page has me a wee bit befuddled --- is there an easy/obvious way for me to bookmark something that will take me to the latest page (week's worth or whatever) of your entries, without having to find and click through another link? In other words, to do what my bookmark "http://www.sturmsoft.com/Writing/current.htm" used to do for me (albeit without the 5 second delay, if possible). Just curious --- don't go to any big trouble, pls, if it's not an easy thing to accomplish --- but if you can trivially provide a gateway (that I could bookmark) to your newest notes, that would be helpful.

And Jonathan, if you have any suggestions for better design on the new ^zhurnal site that Bo Leuf helped me set up, pls fire away (and don't pull any punches) ... the current design (fast-loading default entry page http://zhurnal.net/ which gives people a "What's New" section to glance at and click to what they haven't seen) may need to evolve further ... I personally often prefer to go to the auto-generated "Recent Changes" page http://zhurnal.net/ww/zw?RecentChanges which then lets me see a lower-level view of the new posts ... but it's a bit ugly in format and may be confusing to some non-Wiki readers. I'll ask Bo for suggestions too ....

I have also continued to maintain the old non-Wiki http://www.his.com/~z/guestbook/ version of the ^zhurnal which may be more convenient for some readers ... it's just a reverse-chronological-order collection of the same material as posted in the ZhurnalWiki, immune to easy alteration by passers-by (unlike the Wiki, where anybody can edit almost anything). I break the ^zhurnal file into chunks ("v.0.01", "v.0.02", etc.) every couple of months, when it gets bigger than ~80kB or so, to keep it fast-loading for folks with low bandwidth connections.

Getting back to something more important: glad to hear about your plan to enroll in college again --- sounds like a big win, if you can find time & energy & money to do it --- and esp. good, I think, will be the chance you mentioned to take advantage of the university library. While waiting for my kids to finish classes I have had a grand time browsing and reading in the local community college's library ... that's where I discovered several of the best figure drawing books that I mentioned in my previous note, for instance. And you're absolutely right re the necessity to draw, lots, in order to progress ("Fail. Fail again. Fail better" --- http://zhurnal.net/ww/zw?OnFailure from 13 Jul 1999) ... I plead guilty to being a theoretical artist ... hope I can redeem myself some year, but too many other things intervene (excuses, excuses) ...

On the doggedly-slogging-away front, I did manage to run a slow 15 miles this morning, in spite of the heat here ... so the training plan toward doing a marathon or two later this year continues apace ....

As always, excerpt/quote as the spirits move you, Jonathan! Hope that you & yours continue in good health ....

Best, ^z = Mark Zimmermann = http://www.his.com/~z/ ZhurnalWiki = http://zhurnal.net

The Git has decided to have two bookmark entry points to these pages:

www.sturmsoft.com/Writing/current.htm Use this, or the home page when suggesting people visit this site. This is where I will put important notices as I feel they are needed.
www.sturmsoft.com/Writing/diatribe.htm Like the old redirector but with no delay. This is for regular readers of The Daily Diatribe.

Thought for the day:

The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.

Albert Einstein

Current Listening

Alan Seidler -- The Duke of Ook


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Sunday 25 August 2002

University of Melbourne graduate student Cathryn Trott appears to have started on the slippery slope toward academic extinction. Her astronomical observations contradict Big Bang Theory, in particular the distribution of dark matter. Astronomers fervently believe that dark matter is concentrated in the heart of galaxies in order to explain why they rotate as if they are rigid objects, rather than the way the planets in our solar system rotate. The closer to the centre, the faster the rotational speed of the planets.

"...Trott found little evidence of dark matter in the heart of 2237+0305.

'Dark matter plays an insignificant role in the central regions of this galaxy,' Trott reported this week at a conference in Melbourne, Australia. 'It suggests we need to rethink the way dark matter affects the structure of the universe.'

Trott plans to continue studying 2237+0305 and the Einstein cross to better resolve the distribution of matter in the galaxy.

Story here.

Good luck Cathryn! May you fare better than Halton Arp, Sir Fred Hoyle, Tom van Flandern, Jayant Narlikar, Geoffrey Burbidge, Hannes Alfven...

Thought for the day:

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.

Eric Hoffer

Current Listening

Robert Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders -- Self-titled


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Jonathan Sturm 2002

The DayNotes Gang for more daily musings on Life, the Universe and Things Computerish.

Jonathan Sturm 2002