Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Stupid Science, Stupid Religion

Lest anyone imagine that all religious beliefs are equal or that everything called Science is awesome, I'd like to get a few things off my chest and open things up a little.

It's sort of like comparing smart girls to particularly dumb boys, or smart boys to really dumb girls, and then trying to conclude that either boys or girls are generally the dumbest.  There is such a thing as stupid religion, and also stupid science.  Neither has a monopoly on being completely lame once in a while.

It is this flawed method of biased comparison that is largely responsible for the falsely perceived incompatibility that people often pretend exists between Science and Religion.

The real incompatibility is between smart and stupid, and my life has been entirely committed to becoming gradually less stupid in both areas and striving to be slightly smarter, bit by little, as a scientist/engineer as well as a spiritual being whenever an opportunity to do so comes along.

Stupid Religion happens when people use Religion when they should be using something else instead.  Like Science,  The Emergency Room, or Birth Control.  Or something called a Brain.  Religion is particularly stupid when it makes testable statements.  These are claims that can actually be checked or verified through a bit of investigation, experimentation, or mathematical analysis.  This is very dangerous for Religion, because once testable claims are made and they happen to prove false, that Religion's credibility takes a major hit.

It gets worse, though.  Because many people can't tell the difference between these testable "beliefs" and real beliefs, they may feel social pressure to continue believing in statements that have already been disproved.  Basically, they are believing in lies and will sooner or later suffer because of it.

This credibility hit and the attending suffering is something to which the Catholic Church can testify.  It is a lesson that all other religions should carefully consider.  Catholics once persecuted Galileo for examining some of their stupid testable beliefs and proving them wrong.  Eventually, though, they had to eat humble pie and admit they were wrong and he was right.  This is actually much to their credit, because some Religions would rather cease to exist than to ever admit being wrong.  It pleases me immensely to observe the Christian teaching of Humility over Pride being put into practice in this way.  Even though it took a few hundred years.

But too often I find religious people adamantly and pridefully clinging to some false testable statement that has already been disproved.  They are certain that there is no possible way they could ever have been mistaken in the way they interpret ancient texts written in some long-dead language by people they know nothing about.  If there's anything more arrogant or prideful than that, I surely don't want to know about it.  The earth is only 6,000 years old?  That has not only been proven completely false, but the bible doesn't even say this.  Readers of the bible made up this statement out of pure ignorance.

Beliefs that can be tested are Stupid.  Nobody ever needs to believe them, because they can be tested and either proved or disproved.  "Do you believe in evolution?"  No!  It's not a matter of belief, it's a proven fact. You don't need to believe in it any more than you need to believe that your cell phone really can make phone calls or that airplanes really can fly.  And really believing as hard as you can that 2 and 2 make 7 will never make it so, and will eventually lead to your spiritual downfall.

Believing in something that is false has only one spiritual or practical benefit.  If this is happening to you, it is probably what should be happening.  The reason you're here is not to have a perfect existence and to be right all the time.  This world is a classroom, and we are here to learn and grow.  Everything is an opportunity to fulfill this Divine purpose, including getting yourself into and then out of some stupid, testable beliefs.

Powerful, spiritual beliefs are those that cannot be tested in any way except within your own character.  If they improve you, end your suffering and make you stronger, keep them.  They are proved for you.  But everyone else on the planet needs to do their own work.

Tell us, John, what religion are you anyway?

Why?  So you can label me?  So you can judge me according to your perception of that religion, as totally clear and perfect as that perception surely is?  Forget it.  I, like every person on the planet, am far more complex than even a whole dictionary of labels could contain.  I might be Catholic, Bhuddist, Hindu, Methodist, Muslim, Jewish, Evangelical, Coptic, Greek Orthodox, Baptist, Adventist, Jehovah's Witness, Mormon, Quaker, Mennonite, Anabaptist, Baha'i, Eckankar, Jainist, Zoroastrian or Pastafarian, and it wouldn't make any difference to the validity of ideas that have an independent existence.

My Religion isn't the church I go to in order to participate in community life.  My Religion is my personal spirituality, untestable beliefs, and the growth that hopefully occurs once in a while as a result.

_____


Stupid Science happens when scientists do the opposite, and make statements that are not testable.  They make proclamations that their data do not support.  Sometimes this happens when they perceive only what their personal bias and preconceptions allow them to see, or they filter every new experience according to  their past experience. In other words, when they are acting perfectly human.

But scientists are supposed to have more discipline than that, especially before opening their mouths in public.

The worst example of Stupid Science is when scientists publicly announce that There Is No God.  Now, how the hell were they able to work that out?  What data do they have to show this conclusively?  What peer-review process did they follow?  None:  they are just being Stupid.  They are messing with untestable hypotheses which are not within the domain of Science at all.  They are overstepping their bounds.

"I'm WATCHING you!"
Other examples of Stupid Science are found everywhere on the internet:  free energy scams; dubious anti-aging cosmetics, drugs and devices; "alternative" medicine; Climate Change Denial; Ass-trology, Numb-erology, bible codes, or anything else that uses scientific-sounding bullshit but with no methodology for eliminating bias from the evidence, or which claim proof of untestable or poorly-formed hypotheses.

Science is really very simple.  You draw conclusions based on real evidence, and only based on the evidence.  



Anything and everything that is objectively testable is the property of Science.  Anything that is subjective to the mind belongs to Religion.  They have nothing whatsoever to do with each other, nor does either one pose any kind of threat to the other.  There is no conflict between them.

Unless, of course, they are being Stupid.


Next:  Science V. Religion, Round 2

See also: Certainty or Self-Deception

and:  So it's Religion you want?









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Monday, November 28, 2011

Ramblin' on my Mind

Tim and I were invited to play at a private party last Saturday.  We only had once chance to practice beforehand.  The results are as follows:

video

We're looking for a drummer and bassist to play with us once in a while.  But so far we haven't found any who, like us, are unable to keep a tempo.  It just wouldn't work.





The real thing:

Too Much Stuff

It's possible to have too much stuff, but you usually only become aware of the fact when it's too late and you have to move it all to a different house.

After three years in a house that was too small for our stuff (some of it had to be left outside in the rain), it was finally time to move to a bigger house.  Except for the stuff that had been ruined by being out in the rain, of course.  Luckily, there was a Bring Out Your Dead day a few weeks before the big move.

To save about a thousand dollars, we decided to move ourselves.  We rented a truck from Thrifty because the name simply appealed to us somehow for reasons we can't explain.  It was a 3-tonne truck which is the largest you can operate in Western Australia with only a normal driver's license.  It took four trips over a 48 hour period.  We returned the truck at 1 o'clock in the morning.

video

(Like the music?  Get it here.)


By the end of it, my body felt like I had been hit by a truck.  A big, blue truck with the word, "Thrifty" painted on the side.  Four times.

Interestingly, we put 170 miles on the truck but used only 8 gallons of diesel.  That makes it slightly better than 20 miles to the gallon.

This gave me an idea.  I could load my tired old 1800-cc Toyota light truck into the back of this moving van and cart it around everywhere I went.  I'd get better fuel economy that way.  Plus it would save on wear and repairs.  With nearly 450,000 kms on the clock (that's 280,000 miles for my metric-impaired readers), repairs are becoming more frequent.  It would also save on speeding tickets.

How can you avoid getting saddled with too much stuff?  I suggest moving house every few weeks.

Just to be on the safe side.



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Friday, November 25, 2011

Theory of Awesomeness

One of the characteristics of a great, enduring Scientific Theory is its ability to organize random observations and facts into something more orderly.  Something that makes sense.  And at no time are we in more desperate need of organization than while moving house!

I have way, way too much stuff.  Most of it is books.  Then there's my calculators, watches, cameras, and various computer things.  But then there are things that I have no idea why I have them, what they're good for, or where to put them.  This is where the Theory of Awesomeness comes into its own.

Before, during and after the big move, I've had to make a seemingly endless series of decisions about what to keep, what to give to the Salvos*, and what to send to the Tip*.  My Theory of Awesomeness makes these decisions  vastly easier and in many cases so obvious that I don't know what I'd do without it.  It's Awesome.

That's actually one way to define Awesomeness: the degree to which something is Awesome.  But to avoid a tautology (look it up), Scientists are trained to define concepts like this quantitatively.   Therefore,



where a0 is the baseline Awesomeness, U(t) is the item's usefulness or un-usefulness as a function of time, E(t) is the Elegance (or lack thereof) which is defined as the base-pi logarithm of the coolness, and d is the density.  Obviously things that are Awesome because of rather than in spite of how much space they take up or how much they cost will require a different equation.

The real power of this equation is that it will be at least a week before someone emails me and says, "Hey, wait a minute . . . ."

While packing for the big move, each item's Awesomeness was calculated.  If it was less than the baseline Awesomeness, I threw it away.  If it was merely baseline Awesomeness, I gave it away.  If an item was clearly and demonstrably Awesome, I kept it.  For example, there were some books containing information that was irrelevant even when new, but which was now also out of date.  These were tossed straight in the bin.  Items of clothing for which the Awesomeness had worn out leaving large holes in them were also thrown out unless they could be used as awesome paint rags.

None of my calculators got thrown away or given away, owing to the fact that even the broken ones take up so little space and were in past times (t approaching negative infinity) very useful.  Most of the books I own stayed because they have potential usefulness as t approaches infinity.  All of my watches and clocks were saved from the axe due to their undiminishing elegance and/or coolness.

Highly subjective, you say?  I don't think so.  I defy anyone to prove that this incredibly practical Casio with a 10-year battery is not both Useful and Cool.  It is in fact the only digital watch I can be bothered to wear.


Or try to prove that this limited-edition watch isn't the coolest thing in the entire Solar System.  The face revolves once per sidereal day and correctly displays the location in the southern hemisphere of 1000 celestial objects at any given time.  As the months pass and the earth revolves around the sun, the dial keeps track of the changes in the night sky and shows me which constellations and stars are visible at the moment.  That is, as long as I have the 10x magnifier that came with it.  Sometimes I wear it even if I'm not particularly fussed about what stars are presently visible.  It's the sort of watch that a great wizard like Dumbledore would have worn on a daily basis.  Heck, it's the sort of watch Dumbledore would have invented.

Or, prove that this Seiko Chronograph isn't completely and absolutely cool due to the rotary logarithmic slide rule built into the bezel.  It can do unit conversions and multiplication or division (provided you know how a slide rule works AND have a magnifier handy - see previous).  It is so cool that I had no choice but to give it to myself for my birthday.

Well, I couldn't have expected anyone else to realize that I needed a watch with a rotary logarithmic slide rule.  Oh, sure, it's completely obvious in hindsight.  But my understanding of the Theory of Awesomeness makes buying my own birthday presents the most practical and scientifically sound course of action.

So, the next time you have to make a decision about what to keep, what to throw away, what to donate, or what to buy that special engineer or scientist in your life for Newtonmas (only 30 shopping days left!), feel free to use my Theory of Awesomeness.  If an item contains enough Awesomeness, it is worth having.  It might even be worth the trouble of moving it to another house.





*  Salvos is Australian slang for The Salvation Army, which in addition to being among Australia's many excellent religious organizations, operates an immensely useful chain of thrift stores.
*  The Tip is the Australian word for a landfill.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Taboo #1: Politics.

My personal views on Politics and Religion are sure to alienate every other living person on the planet.  This is exactly how it's supposed to be, since every person on the planet is entitled to have their own personal views on things.    If you are apt to experience outrage when someone's views differ from yours, I suggest that you read no further.  Ever.  Anything.  Unless you like being outraged (which admittedly many people do, given the popularity of outrage-promoting TV shows such as The News.)  In that case, my best advice is to do whatever you want, and don't blame me.




I find Australian politics to be fascinating.

Like most statements about politics, this one is also an outright lie.  The truth is that I find few things to be more irritating than politics.  To my mind, interesting questions are scientific, philosophical or engineering in nature and not the endless random noise about who supports what or whom.  It's Celebrity Gossip and nothing more.

In Australia, the conservative pro-wealth party is called The Liberal Party of Australia for some reason.  This would be like the US Republican Party calling itself The Gay Communists of Atheism Party.  The word "liberal" is such an epithet and insult in the United States that the casual use of it in Australia still sounds weird to me.

I also consider it to be blatant false advertising.  "Vote for lower taxes on the rich, fewer immigrants, more corporations, less health care, less welfare, less education, and more Religion in public life.  Vote Liberal!"    Say what?  That stuff isn't liberal, it's head-in-the-sand 17th-century Conservatism.

Meanwhile the liberal side of politics in Australia is called the Australian Labour Party for the very compelling reason that they needed to have a different acronym (ALP) from the other guys (LPA).  This is also a bold move that the US Democrats are too cowardly to take: openly declaring their support of labor unionism.

Back in the 1800's when the lines were being drawn globally, progressive socialist intellectual marxist bolscheviks ("liberals") decided they needed a voting base slightly more diverse than that of over-educated and under-experienced idealistic university students, and so they recruited blue-collar workers to their side by promising better wages and conditions.  This was accomplished first through unionism, then violent communist revolutions, later through government-mandated conditions of employment, and later still, total government oversight of every aspect of life.  Early attempts at totalitarian control utilized a kind of secret police called The Secret Police, but now most governments do this simply using the tax code.  I'm not talking just about Russia here, but every nation on the planet including the USA.

But what they didn't count on was the underlying conservatism of blue-collar workers,who tend to believe in family life, religion, national patriotism, and sports.  And so to maintain this tenuous grip on blue-collar support, the liberal Labour Party, just like the conservative Liberal Party, has to pretend to like all those very conservative yet very populist things as well, making the conservative Liberal Party and the liberal Labour Party visibly indistinguishable from each other.  But behind closed doors, Labour Party leadership are still essentially intellectual communist atheists.  Australia's Prime Minister for example is a woman who openly lives with a man to whom she is not married, and has done so for years.  In America, many people think it's still legal to stone monogamous adulterers (aka "liberals") to death.  Can you imagine a man or a woman in a de-facto relationship running for office in the US?

This brings me to the parliamentary practice of making one of their numbers the de-facto (har!) head of state.  It's like putting one of the chickens in charge of the henhouse, which seems to me like an enormous conflict of interest.  Who is representing her electorate while Julia Gillard off being the Prime Minister?

To be effective, any legislative body needs to have a common enemy, specifically a chief executive or President as head of State. Otherwise, they do what the Australian Parliament does all day, which is bicker and snipe at each other rather than figure out how to settle the President's hash once and for all.

Every statement heard in parliament is made solely to denigrate the other party simply for being the other party.  The LPA trashes the ALP for supporting policies that the LPA itself supported not more than a couple of years ago.  There is nothing substantive or intelligent ever said within those walls.  I find it to be pure childishness and a complete waste of the taxpayers' money.

But would it be any different if Australia had a President instead of a foreign Queen as head of State?  Based what I hear from the USA, the answer would have to be "no."

The late and famous Douglas Adams wrote in one of the Hitchhikers' Guide books that no one who seeks power can ever be trusted to have it.  In his universe, the real leader is a hermit who doesn't give a toss about power, and makes decisions on a purely rational basis (he asks his cat) rather than based on what is more likely to get his party re-elected.

J.K. Rowling, whom you may have heard of if you've been anywhere in this Solar System during the last 15 years, also writes that those who crave power should under no circumstances be allowed to actually have it.  Everything I am unfortunate enough to read about politics confirms these views for me.

The solution?  First, we should immediately ban all political parties forthwith.  They have never done anyone any good whatsoever and are a hinderment to real democracy.  Secondly, adopt real democracy, which is making decisions by the majority voice of the people.  Democracy did not originally mean creating popular celebrities who would then make short-sighted decisions based on how to best remain in power.

We have the technology now.  Why not have politics without politicians?

But doesn't someone have to be in charge?  No problem.  You've heard of Jury Duty, right?  Pick citizens at random to fill the seats.  You have my personal Guarantee that they will be no worse than the politicians who lie, cheat, steal and deal to get where they are.  Or your money back.


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Taboo #2: Religion.

In 1958 Bertrand Russell posited that there was a perfectly good Teapot orbiting the sun in our solar system, and defied anyone to prove him wrong.  He was trying to explain what an unfalsifiable hypothesis was, and to show that something isn't necessarily so just because you can't disprove it.  Why would he do such a thing?

Because some knucklehead tried to force religion on him by asserting that since you can't prove that God doesn't exist, then you have to accept that He does.

What this alerts us to is the idea that if something can't be found, it isn't necessarily nonexistent.  We've all heard of the not-very-bright prospector who after years of searching without success concluded that there was no such thing as Gold.  Assertions of the existence of something (such as an orbiting Teapot, a Flying Spaghetti Monster, or The Invisible Pink Unicorn) can't be disproved just because we are unable to find them.  We can't very well look everywhere all at once.

Even worse are assertions of the existence of something which by its very nature is unable to be seen, felt, or otherwise detected in any way.  Although an obvious logical error, it's still quite funny (to my sense of humor at any rate) to say that lack of evidence is itself not only evidence but final proof of the thing existing. In that way, we can assert that any absurd thing exists as long as we also say that by its nature it cannot be observed to exist.

This line of thinking is countered by the purveyors of quality religion who say, "Yes, but these unfalsifiable teapots are just objects, small ideas that have no real power to change the world.  Religion consists of big ideas that create meaning in people's lives."  

Tosh, says Russell, people are able to find meaning in anything, given enough time, motivation and creativity.  Athiests are eager to claim (though without proof) that this is exactly what happened at the beginning of each major world religion.


Recently this precise thing has occurred with the emergence of our newest worldwide religion, Pastafarianism (google it).  Because someone asserted the existence of a Flying Spaghetti Monster that can be no more proved or disproved than the dogma of any traditional religion, non-deists worldwide have adopted it as a kind of anti-faith or spoof religion.  Essentially, it's the same argument as Bertrand Russel's Orbiting Teapot.  So why isn't there a worldwide religion dedicated to worshiping the almighty Orbiting Teapot?  It's obvious, isn't it?  In 1958 the Internet hadn't been invented yet.

Please don't get me wrong - I'm not anti-religion nor am I an atheist.    I regularly attend one of Australia's many excellent religious organizations.  However, I'm not a Zealot and I reject Fundamentalism in all forms. I'm perfectly content for atheists to think what they think, and for any particular religious group to do likewise. I wonder only that people who crusade for atheism or any sort of -theism don't have anything better to do with their time.

Fractal known as The Mandelbrot Set
One thing I'm not happy to sit back and silently give approbation to is someone going around saying they have proof that their own Flying Teapot or Spaghetti Monster is the one real one.  I speak of the Intelligent Design fruitcakes whose lives are squandered away in vain resistance to the natural proven fact of Evolution.  They claim that by studying something they call "complexity" they can find evidence that there was an intelligent agent at work in creating Life.  In other words, they say they have scientific proof that their God exists.

The problem is that their definition of complexity is no better than that of pornography:  "you know it when you see it."  That way they can assert that anything they want to be complex IS complex, and anything they don't want to be complex isn't.  Is it any wonder they claim their hypothesis to be proved?  It doesn't surprise anyone, frankly.

Mandelbrot set, magnified 2000 times.
However they define it, the main assumption is that "complex" things need to be designed "intelligently" and things that aren't complex have probably formed naturally or were perhaps designed by morons.  I say that this is completely wrong and backwards.  As an engineer, I know that things that are intelligently well-designed will always be simple.  Rectangular.  Regular.  Containing no more features than are absolutely necessary.  Random features, such as that of gravel (a man-made manufactured product!) don't count.  Infinitely repeating features such as that on a fractal pattern look complex but aren't really. One simple mathematical equation describes all the infinite and intricate features of the Mandelbrot Set, for example.  A bowl of spaghetti seems complex when you examine it closely, but it contains no information and only one part.  Unless you add meatballs.

But complexity has a real definition and a way of measuring it.  It comes down to how much information an object contains, not necessarily how much is needed to duplicate it.  Spaghetti and fractals are not complex.  A Terabyte of random numbers is not complex.

The most complex thing we normally deal with is a computer.  Wasn't it designed?  Heavens, no.  It evolved through many increments to the point where no single person could possibly in a lifetime create all the hardware, firmware and software necessary for you to be reading this right now.  Compared to the human body however, a computer is relatively simplistic.  It also contains little or no random "garbage" owing to the intervention of designers.  The human DNA sequence on the other hand does contain "junk."

No, the idea of "irreducible complexity" does not prove the existence of an undetectable invisible sky person.  It is a false concept that misunderstands and misrepresents its own basic terms: intelligence, complexity, design, and creation.  Complex systems cannot be designed.  They can really only evolve.

And this should come as very welcome news for people who are into religion.  Religion is supposed to be something not scientifically tested or subject to forcible persuasion by proof.  It is supposed to be something of personal choice rather than compulsion by government or logic.  Why are some religionists determined to look for proof?  Do they in fact have no faith?  If you know any of them, could you get them to please stop it?

If you want religion to have a place in your life, you don't need the permission of Logic, Science, or any human being on the planet to do so.  Anyone who tries to ridicule you for doing so should be told to go and get a life.  At the same time don't be under any misapprehension that your Flying Spaghetti Monster is any more or less scientifically proven than someone else's.

In the words of America's most respected judge possessing the very Wisdom of Solomon,

"I order Science to stay 500 yards away from Religion at all times."






That's suits me.  While I quite enjoy chocolate in my peanut butter and peanut butter in my chocolate, the same does not apply to science and religion:  I enjoy both of them so much more when they are each minding their own business.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Very Auspicious Day - November 8

You might not be aware that November 8 is one of the most interesting dates on the entire calendar.  

For example, on this day in 1889, Montana became the 41st State of the Union.  Where would we be today if that hadn't happened?  Not in Montana, that's for certain.



X-Rays:  Creepy!
Röntgen: Creepy.
Also on this day, in 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered X-Rays while messing around with electricity, thus creating a whole new way for scientists to be creepy.  And proving once and for all that messing around with electricity is, on the whole, an excellent thing to do.







Speaking of creepy, November 8 is also famous for being the day in 1923 on which a confused young Adolf Hitler attempted to seize control of Germany by occupying a beer hall in Munich at gunpoint.  And it just might have worked, if it hadn't been a completely idiotic idea!!!!  Sure, Germans like beer, but there is so much more to Germany than that.  Young Adolf wouldn't have necessarily understood such nuances of German culture, he himself being Austrian. And part Jewish.  And his real name wasn't Hitler, but Schickelgrüber.  Yes, he was a very confused young man, about a great many things.

But young Adolf learned his lesson, and after being released from prison he gave up trying to put his nefarious plans and half-baked sociological theories into effect by force.  Instead, he did what everyone else does who lusts for power, and got himself elected democratically.

Which is why you must never vote for anyone who says, "Vote for ME."  Because that person will absolutely, definitely be the next Hitler.

LOSER of the 1960 US Presidential Election
Speaking of villains and democracy, November 8 also marks the day in 1960 when Richard Milhous Nixon, the world's second most famous Quaker after the guy on the Oatmeal box, was defeated in his bid to become the 35th POTUS.  The voice of the People was clear and decisive in their rejection of Nixon as their 35th president.  Nixon accepted this decision with good grace and resigned himself to becoming 37th president instead.

Remember that word, Dick.  "Resign." It might come in handy again.

Speaking of resigning, today is the day in 2006 that the Worst Secretary of State Ever, Donald Rumsfeld, resigned.

While November 8 has seen its share of blood, such as the historic first-ever jet-on-jet aircraft dogfight (1950, USA 2, North Korea 0), or in 1520 when Denmark invaded Sweden for some reason, it has also been a day of peace.  1965, for example, when Britain officially abolished the death penalty.  Or the signing of the Pacification of Ghent in 1576.  And thank goodness for THAT.  Just imagine what your life would be like if the Dutch town of Ghent were still full of angry Spaniards.

King Charles the Clueless
November 8th is also the birthday in 1622 of King Charles the 10th of Sweden, who spent most of his time trying to explain to the rest of the world that Sweden and Denmark are actually two completely different countries.  By far the most interesting thing about him is that he was actually King Charles the 4th.  But King Charles the 9th who was really King Charles the 3rd had chosen his number based on a book he read which he thought was a history of Sweden but which turned out to be a work of fiction.  Thank goodness no democratically-elected leader in modern times would ever rely on fictional stories to make important decisions (ahem).  The fact that George W. Bush had never read an entire book might actually have been for the best.



It is the birthday in 1836 of Milton Bradley, a wealthy Capitalist and entrepreneur who built a monopoly based on board games, which ironically did not include Monopoly!  Instead, Monopoly was the creation of a puritanical do-gooder who wanted to teach people about the evils and moral bankruptcy of Capitalism.  The game failed miserably in this goal, and instead became the means of introducing millions of children to the endless joys and wonders of Capitalism.  As a consequence, and much to her dismay, the self-righteous do-gooder became a fabulously wealthy Capitalist.

Also born on this day, in 1848, is Gottlob Frege, the German mathematician and logician who elevated Logic from something akin to the disreputable morass of Grecian rhetoric into a respectable branch of mathematics.  Presumably he did this in an effort to figure out what on earth his parents were thinking.  Next time you use an IF( ) function in Excel or draw a Chance card in Monopoly, thank Gottlob Frege.

Jack Kilby, Inventor of the
Calculator and the
Integrated Circuit.
One individual indebted to Gottlob Frege was the inventor of the integrated circuit, an item that makes prodigious use of Frege's formal mathematical logic.  Jack Kilby built and patented the first integrated circuit while working for Texas Instruments in 1958, and was promptly awarded the Nobel Prize.  Well, relatively promptly.  It apparently took 42 years for the news to reach Sweden.  (All their mail was being delivered to Denmark by accident.)  In any case, Jack's birthday could only be - you guessed it - November 8th!

Jack Kilby was an engineer after my own heart.  He also invented the electronic calculator, which I regard as the greatest invention of all times.  If I could put just one item into a time machine and send it to my personal hero Galileo (who famously never did anything on November 8th if he could help it), it would be a solar-powered scientific calculator.  He really could have used one.  And I have a few extra, including the Texas Instruments TI-30X IIs, which in my studied opinion is the best calculator available today and a direct descendant of Jack Kilby's creation.

Some of the calculators I have owned and used.  Best Invention Ever.


Atlas: Not Verified
This day is also the birthday in 1656 of astronomer Edmund Halley, who correctly guessed the periodicity of the object now known as Halley's Comet.   It is also the day before the birthday of astronomer and author Carl Sagan.  Twelve hundred years or so from now, November 8th will be celebrated by "millions and millions" of people throughout the inhabited Galaxy as Sagan-mas Eve.

Also in Astronomy, it is alleged to be the anniversary of the discovery in 1980 of a 15th moon of Saturn based on images taken by Voyager 1 (there are now at least 62 known moons of Saturn).  Try as I may I have not been able to verify this claim, nor verify that the fried-egg-like Atlas was that lucky moon.  Actually, this factoid is almost certainly wrong.  But if it were true, how awesome would that be?
2005 YU55.  Verified.

Verified, however, is the hair-raising near-miss of a 400-meter-wide asteroid, named 2005 YU55 for some reason, passing between the earth and moon on November 8 of 2011. Hey - that's TODAY!!!

If an object of that size were to collide with the earth, it's pretty much lights out for 90% of higher life forms on this planet, and even some politicians too.  The chances that it will do so are zero, however.  Its trajectory has been very accurately plotted, and it will definitely miss us.  We'll be able to get a much better photo of it, though, so that's a bonus.

Bram Stoker's character
scares the hell out of me.
Shouldn't we really call this a near-hit instead of a near-miss?


It is the birthday of scary Irish author Bram Stoker (1874), and notable user of language Gordon Ramsay (1966).  It is the day English poet John Milton regained paradise in 1674.



November 8 is the day in 1983 that the amazing James Booker left us for the sunny side of the street.  In honor of His Magnificence, please take a moment to listen to one of the great human achievements of all time:





So my friends, enjoy this absolutely amazing, one-of-a-kind day!  What will I be doing on this most auspicious occasion?  I am going to celebrate by laying in a hammock.




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Sunday, November 6, 2011

An Unforgettable Incident, which I had somehow forgotten about.

I don't know what's more astonishing - the incident itself, or the fact that I managed to forget all about it  for five years.

While searching my email archives for a piece of data that for some reason was suddenly a matter of highest importance after years of irrelevance, and which the following day was once again irrelevant, I stumbled upon an email from 2006 in which the following incident, possibly the weirdest food fight that ever took place, is recorded.

I was living in a rented house in Rivervale, WA that was experiencing a problem with the order Rodentia, specifically (har!) Mus Musculus. Fortunately, I had recently purchased 100 standard mousetraps for a science project (don't ask) and was able to divert a few of them to the cause of discomfiting our uninvited guests.

Mus Musculus, or common house mouse.
The little buggers are smarter than they look, and after suffering a few casualties, they learned how to circumvent basic mousetrap technology by exercising unbelievable skill in stealing the bait.  This resulted in an escalation of hostilities as I pitted my wits against theirs.  I applied myself to making the traps even more sensitive using knowledge acquired as an R&D engineer, while simultaneously making alternative food sources completely unobtainable to them.  All cardboard packaging was eliminated, all food was sealed within hard plastic containers, and all surfaces were divested of any food remains after the evening meal each night.

By bending the retaining wire just so and applying a thin film of olive oil, I was able to make the traps so sensitive that they would spontaneously deploy if I so much as failed to tread sufficiently lightly on the kitchen floor.  This art claimed three or four more vermin.  But there the death toll stayed for some weeks as the wily mice adapted their tactics to mine.

One evening the wife and I were just sitting down to our meal when I looked over and saw a large grey mouse scouring the kitchen floor for our leavings, bold as brass, making no effort to conceal herself, obviously taking advantage of the only opportunity for foraging that I had overlooked.  It never occurred to me to clean the kitchen immediately after preparing the meal and before sitting down to enjoy it.

"Quick!" I whispered, not taking my eyes off the intruder, "Give me something to throw!"  My startled but clever and self-possessed wife hesitated only very briefly.  She picked up the first thing she could see (found in a bowl on the kitchen table, as it turns out) and placed it in my outstretched hand.

It was a medium-sized lemon from the tree in the backyard.  I allowed my years of softball training to take control of my arm.  On instinct alone without necessarily trying to aim, I threw the lemon hard.  To my complete amazement, the lemon struck the mouse square on and killed it dead.

Never the squeamish sort, my wife walked over to the lemony-fresh rodent, picked it up by its lifeless tail and dropped it unceremoniously into the waste bin.

The only mice we saw after that were two young and very stupid mice, orphans obviously, who must take more credit for their own demise than I can.  One was silly enough to get into the kitchen sink, from which he was unable to get out again (the sides being too high and smooth).  The other got himself tangled up in a plastic grocery bag, which I was shrewd enough to detect.  Plastic bags, you see, do not normally make rustling sounds of their own accord.  Just call me Sherlock.

I can't imagine how I could have forgotten such a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.  I honestly don't know who was more surprised at the thrown lemon's effect - me or the mouse.  To be sure, there have been some traumatic and consuming events in the last few years, but what could compare with bagging a mouse with a lemon thrown sidearm while seated at the kitchen table?   How many other people can boast of such an accomplishment?

One, at least.  My wife had years ago dispatched a mouse in an office were she worked by throwing an order book at it like a frisbee.







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