Gem from GK Chesterton

"A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."

From The Everlasting Man

Friday, January 30, 2009

Cool or Creepy? Self-Assembling Robot

The next installment of "Cool or Creepy" comes from NewScientist via MAKE Magazine .
To get the full effect, think back to Arnold Schwartzenegger in The Terminator, then play the video clip below. 
I guarantee a shiver going up your spine either from the coolness or creepiness of it all.
Be sure to vote below.

Image Credit: Gizmodo

One Giant Leap: And the winner is...

The polls are closed and with 43% of the readers' vote, I'd like to congratulate "The Deeps of Time" for the winning submission to the inaugural "One Giant Leap".     20 bonus points! Plus honor, fame, glory and the respect of your peers!  Sorry, wealth is not included in the prize package.

I also want to thank the other One Giant Leap contributors:

Arash's World

They all are an essential part of any healthy blog diet.

And for the record, here are the contributions again to "One Giant Leap".


What advancement in thought, technology or discovery pushed science the furthest in one giant leap?  This question was posed to some outstanding bloggers for whom I have great respect. And it is your job, dear reader, to vote for which of the following is the "One Giant Leap".
Unless you're from Illinois each person gets one vote, so I ask you to lobby your friends/family/garbage collectors to vote for which scientific advancement is the most important as a single step in history.  The poll will be open for 1 week so organize your grass roots,  and let the debate begin.   When voting you'll need to decide which blogger is most convincing in their "Giant Leap" if there is overlap between submissions.

The blogger who garners the most votes will not only win glory, honor, fame and the respect of their peers, but also 20 Bonus Points and likely assure themselves a top spot on the Bonus Point Leader Board or be able to get fabulous stuff from the Store House O' Prizes.  And you, dear reader, will win because you'll be exposed to bloggers who are well worthy of your time to read and follow closely.    

So without further ado, I present to you the  One Giant Leap candidates and their submissions.   The poll follows these submissions.

Rocket Scientist:  Information Technology Revolution

I'm going to have to go with the information technology revolution and all that entails. I can't think of anything that has changed the world we live in more than the way we communicate and get/send information. When I think back 100 years (speculatively of course) and the world as it was then and then think back 500 years before that, the difference between 600 and 100 years is not, in my opinion, as profound as the change in the past century. But, more than that, the world my father grew up in is a damn site closer to the world his father grew up in than to the world I grew up in. And mine is much more like his than my daughter's is to mine.

I don't think it's any one thing but the serendipitous combinations of many things like computers and word processing/image processing, and the internet and telephones/instant paging and faxes and email and truly instant access around the world. 

You can't keep a secret any more like you used to. Someone with a cell phone camera will be there. You want to know what something is, google and know. You want an opinion by someone in another country. Find one instantly!

Geography is less of a concern than it's ever been. Information can go anywhere, instantly. The world and entertainment for kids today is a completely different world than it was for me and light years from how it was for my grandfather. Good or ill (and I think much of it is good), it sure as heck is different.

Ether Wave Propaganda: Sir Isaac Newton's Principia
If we're talking about a single contribution, and if we measure the "size" of that contribution as a leap that had a very quick effect rather than a cumulative one over all remaining history, I'd probably have to go with Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. To suggest that astronomical motions could be explained in terms of force acting over time was a massive shift in thinking, and to offer no philosophical explanation of this force (contra Descartes' version of mechanistic natural philosophy, itself a huge contribution) simply doubled down on an already massive contribution.

The feat, one might say, was replicated in 1925 when Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, and Pascual Jordan published their "Three Man Work", which postulated the matrix mechanics version of quantum mechanics. This work suggested that at the universe at its most fundamentally microscopic level could not be mathematically described in any continuous way (as with Newtonian motion), but as a probabilistic and immediate succession between distinct states: the original "quantum leap". They then doubled down (really in 1927 with the so-called "Copenhagen Interpretation" of quantum mechanics) by asserting that there was no underlying but undetectable reality causing the transition from state to state. Only what could be observed could be considered real.

Leave the Lights On: Heliocentrism
I'm going to go with the shift that occurred around the time of the Scientific Revolution in which scientists stopped trying to pigeonhole the universe to their ideas and instead began to described it the way they observed it. I am specifically thinking of the shift from the ancient Aristotelian idea of heavenly bodies circling in shells of aether (which was never able to explain retrograde motion no matter how hard astronomers tried) to planets in elliptical orbits around the sun. This is not the discovery of any one scientist (Copernicus, for example, was the first heliocentrist, but he still believed in spheres of aether), but rather a larger-scale shift in thinking.

At one time, philosophy came up with ideas of how the universe "should be" according to the current understanding of God, and science tried to show how the universe proved that understanding of God. After this shift, scientists observe how the universe is, leaving the philosophers and theologians to work out how it affects our understanding of God.

Newton's Ocean: Mass Conservation in Chemical Reactions
OK so the giant leap has to "advance a field of science" by the hugest amount. I'm going to interpret this quite literally. So I could go after the father of the field of evolutionary biology but that's too obvious. How about the father of chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier, who in 1789 came up with the principle that mass is conserved in a chemical reaction. This led to the whole idea of chemical constituents combining with each other without themselves changing. Not only did this transform (no pun intended) alchemy into the scientific field of chemistry, but it paved the way for Dalton to come up with his atomic theory, and the idea that chemistry involves atomic elements of different weights combining in simple proportions.

Wikipedia seems to imply that Lavoisier really had to keep his unpopular job as a tax collector in order to fund his scientific research. As a result, he was guillotined during the French revolution. So it has always been hard to keep your head while trying to fund those giant leaps.

The Deeps of Time:  Greek Philosophical Rationality and the Christian Faith
My first thought is to second the first suggestion, the computer revolution. The progress of scientific knowledge, at least in the total body of scientific facts known, in the last century has been exponential, based largely on the computer. Not only does computer technology allow a wider dissemination of knowledge (like the printing press), it also helps in the processing of that information. In everything from genetics to cosmology, sheer number-crunching and the ability to simulate complex systems has advanced science tremendously. 

I'll offer another suggestion, though, in the interests of provoking thought. Readers of my blog know that I place an emphasis on the interaction between philosophy and science. Science itself isn't even possible without a prior belief in the intelligibility of the universe and a trust in reason to be able to investigate it. Historians have noted that modern science is a distinctly Western venture, and Western civilization is at its heart based in two things: Greek philosophical rationality and the Christian faith. Those two facts are related, I believe. It is the Christian belief that God made a rational, purposeful universe and the tools of classical philosophy ("baptized" by Christan thinkers like Augustine and Aquinas) that have made science bloom in Christian culture in ways that it couldn't in other intellectual paradigms.

Nested Universe: Heliocentrism
I'll suggest that Copernicus' theory that the Sun is at the center of our Solar System is the greatest leap in the history of science.

Not only did this theory redefine astronomy, his work is seen by many as the starting point of the Scientific Revolution itself, and led to significant advances in a number of the Sciences. Understanding that our world does not hold a special place in the universe was a truly revolutionary change, and one that sparked a radically new way of thinking about our world and ourselves.

Arash's World: The Gutenberg Press
If thinking about inventions, I would say that Gutenberg's invention of the printing press was a giant leap in pretty much all the areas one can think of.

It caused a social and economic revolution as education became more accessible to laypeople and was not only the domain of the church. 

It was an information or communication revolution (and I think the Internet, with all due respect, is simply its follow-up, sequel or logical consequence). 

All this had enormous impact on religion, government and brought about a changing and more receptive mentality. It brought about more accurate geographical information through actualized maps. 

Various other academic disciplines evolved and spread rapidly through books. In other words, knowledge was finally, at least theoretically, available to all. Without the printing press I would venture to say that we would not be where we are today.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thermodynamics Test for Financial Investments

As a service to the readers of The Secret of Newton, I'd like to offer some financial advice, at no charge!*  Call it the "Thermodynamics Test for Financial Investments".  Let's say you come across what you consider to be an outstanding business or investment opportunity (such as the free offer in a Craig's List classified below). But you're just not sure if it is the right fit for you.   Here's the ad, quoted verbatim: 


Motivation and potential - free...

We've all seen those overnight success money making schemes online. Well, I have a couple in mind that I truly believe in, but I need a partner to help me to get it off the ground. I am not opposed to spending a little money as long as I am relatively sure of a good return for us both. I want to learn, but don't want to have to slog through all the stuff necessary to learn how to build websites, set up search engine stuff, etc. Can you tell that I don't know what I'm doing? So, what do you say? Is there some kind of IT techie kind of guy or gal out there who wants to work with me to make some serious money online? Email me and let's get started asap.


Now let's take a look and see if this offer passes the Thermodynamics Test of Financial Investments. 

If two thermodynamic systems are each in thermal equilibrium with a third, then they are in thermal equilibrium with each other.

OK, there are two systems presented in this financial opportunity.  These systems are "overnight success money making schemes online" that the ad author has "in mind".  Unfortunately his statement "Can you tell that I don't know what I'm doing?" tells us that his mind is not in equilibrium (thermal or otherwise) with the third system which is "reality".  

Analysis: Fails the Zeroth Law.

In any process, the total energy of the universe remains the same.

Or, more commonly, "energy cannot be created nor destroyed".  When applied to financial investing, think of the first law as "no such thing as a free lunch" or: can't create sumpin' from nuthin'.  In this case, the ad author claims to be offering free motivation and free potential.   Turns out, however, that the motivation and potential really aren't free.  He wants you to do some computer programming for him to help get the two "overnight success money making schemes" he "has in mind" off the ground.  In this case, he is working within the bounds of the First Law of Thermodynamics and knows that nobody will be his  IT Techie for nothing, so he's open to spending "a little money".  

Analysis: Passes the First Law of Thermodynamics.

The entropy of an isolated system not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.
If we consider "entropy" to be the amount of disorder in a system, then we can be certain that our entrepreneur above will increase your entropy over time if you team up with him.  Imagine: you've decided that you want to grab this golden ring and shoot for a "relatively good return" and make "serious money online".  So with your IT Techie know-how you meet with him and get the scheme up and running.  Then comes the late night phone call from your new business partner asking you to "shut it down immediately!!!!" and "shred everything now!!!".  Followed soon after by the knock on the door from the SEC and the visit from the FBI men in black  investigating interstate fraud.  Oh yes, my friend, the amount of entropy in your life will certainly increase over time.  You will also likely end up in an "isolated system" such as.... umm... a prison cell.  

Analysis: Passes the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

As temperature approaches absolute zero, the entropy of a system approaches a constant minimum.
You are assured a "constant minimum" amount of entropy (disorder) if you put your eggs into this investment basket, most likely when the (legal) revenue from this scheme approaches absolute zero.  

Analysis: Passes the Third Law.

Conclusion:  This investment opportunity is consistent with the First, Second, and Third Laws of Thermodynamics.  Were it not for the violation of the Zeroth Law, I would say this is a terrific financial investment.  However, the "Thermodynamic Test for Financial Investments" requires that you forgo any opportunity that isn't consistent with all laws.  So, regretfully, I must advise you to pass on this "Free Motivation and Potential"  offer.

Also filed under: Free Comedy Gold from Craig's List.

Image credit: A Cool Friday.

The Fine Print
*Oops, I'm violating the First Law of Thermodynamics here.  Corn!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

This is the Internet.

The IT Crowd has finally done it!  I'm guessing with a combination of biocomputing and quantum computing, they've designed a desktop device that contains the entirety of the Internet.  I'm astonished, frankly. 

Video here.

5 BPs to Make for the tip.

Monday, January 26, 2009

aMap is the Best! No, aMap is the worst!

A truckload of thanks to my friend Thom (who is now 10 Bonus Points richer!) for turning me on to aMap. This is an intriguing widget that provides mind-mapping structure to arguments.  For kicks and giggles, I made an aMap of the recent post and comment thread of "Science can enrich faith, but not visa versa?"  which was my response to a statement by Dr. Lawrence Krauss. With wild swings of a very blunt axe, I chopped down the very rich discussion into some basic arguments and supporting statements.  In the first aMap I've mapped the position that "Faith can Enrich Science", supported largely in the comments by myself and The Deeps of Time, (Michael)

In the second aMap, I tried (crudely) to present the contrary position made mostly by Rocket Scientist (Stephanie) and Letters from Lausanne (Boris).  

Apologies to all for hacking off some delicious fruit while doing this pruning.  The purpose of this post is two-fold: 1) Introduce a widget that could be a constructive forum for arguments; 2) Use you as lab rats to assess the potential of this tool. Please build on either argument and help me put this tool to the test.  If this is as snappy as it seems, I'll be happier than a pig in poop.

Do you like aMap, love it, hate it?  Please put this through the paces and let me know.  Let the kicking and giggling begin.

Update 1/26/09:  One drawback to aMap I just noticed is that the title can't be edited once the widget code is created.  My apologies for mispelling "enrich" as "engich".    Although, that might also make an interesting argument.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Forknife Loves Cupcakes: The Robot Controlled by a T-Mobile G1 Phone

From Macpod via Engadget.  This needs no introduction, no commentary, no analysis*.  Just enjoy.  

The Fine Print
*I won't even mention that this fits into Google's master plan to conquer the world.  That is if Bunk Bots don't conquer it first.

Shortwave Radio: One Step Up the Geek Ladder

I'm not climbing the corporate ladder.  I am climbing the geek ladder.  And yesterday I just got a promotion!!!

My son and I went to one of our favorite spots in town today: Mind Port.  Mind Port is worth visiting if you're anywhere within the northwest corner of Washington State.  I wouldn't drive 200 miles to see it.  But I'd drive 100 miles.     There are truckloads of cool hands-on exhibits, many of which are science based.  All of which are either engaging, fun, mentally challenging, odd or a combination of these.  One exhibit was a shortwave radio.  We spent about 30 minutes running through different frequencies to find signals.  We had a blast!  It reminded me of fossil digging: you have to sort through a bunch of garbage to find something of value*.  After getting charged, we wanted to dive a bit deeper so we walked down the street to The American Museum of Radio and Electricity.    The AMRE is worth visiting if you're anywhere in the northwest corner of the United States.  I'd drive 300-400 miles just to see this museum.  There's a huge collection of antique radios and scientific instruments.  Lots of hands-0n exhibits and demonstrations.  See their website to check out all of the goodies.

AMRE also just happens to sell shortwave radios.  My son and I, filled with the radio equivalent of gold rush fever bought a 1970's Kenwood QR-666 shortwave radio.  

Before long, we had an antenna strung up in the kitchen and, I believe, that is when I ascended one rung on the geek ladder.

My "About Me" blurb on the side bar of this blog used to read:

1) Proud father. 
2) Geologist. 
3) Geek. 
4) Writer. 
5) Christian. 
6) Work in progress for numbers 1-5.

But I'm changing that.  It will now be:

1) Proud father. 
2) Geek. 
3) Geologist. 
4) Writer. 
5) Christian. 
6) Work in progress for numbers 1-5.

I'm novice in the shortwave gig so I'd love to hear your feedback, hints, tips, and tricks if you've dipped your toe into this pool. Or jumped into the deep end.  I'm sure the antenna set up can be improved over stringing up a wire in the kitchen.  I remembering hearing about some really strange signals on the shortwave frequency.   Help me out here.  Bring it on!

As an aside, the radio didn't come with a manual.  Fifteen or twenty years ago I'd either be out of luck or about to embark on a journey of weeks (or months?) to track down a manual.  But as the curator of the museum was lamenting the lack of the manual, I told him (without pause) that I'd be able to "geddidonline".   Sure enough, within 3 minutes at home I had a PDF version of the Kenwood QR-666 manual.  If you're looking for out of print electronic equipment manuals, why not start at Tim Roberts?  His site worked wonderfully for me.  And the price was right.  But the astonishing part to me was that I didn't even hesitate to think that I could immediately retrieve this obscure document.  I mean, really.  C'mon.  What is more obscure than QR-666?** 

I'm amazed that "Geddidonline"  has become reflexive for us.  We know with certainty that if there's something we need to learn or find out or buy, we can "geddidonline".  I'm more baffled now if something can't be acquired from the Internet than if it can.  5 Bonus Points for your story about something you search for in vain online.***

As another aside, I'm thoroughly disillusioned by "RadioShack".  I put the name in quotes because I figured that "RadioShack" could help me out with an antenna for my new "radio".  How wrong I was.  Sure I could get a bluetooth headset there, or an Xbox controller, or a Sprint phone plan.  But the actual percentage of "radio" gear occupying the shelves was 1% of the store.    That might be on the generous side.  And, to make matters worse, that percentage was greater than the "radio" expertise of the staff.  He suggested I try another "RadioShack" store, thinking that another "RadioShack" would have more "radio" equipment than this branch.  No thanks. I think I'll just geddidonline.

The Fine Print
*I'm stretching the analogy, because I find the host rocks to fossils of value too and not garbage.

**I'm sure there's plenty, and I'd love to hear your stories fishing the ponds of obscurity.  5 Bonus Points for a great tale in this line.

***Subtract 5 points if you come up with something like "my car keys".  You know what I mean.  Don't be a wiseacre!

Image Credit for Radio:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

BOTLOS Boxing Ring

This is the place to spar with others about significant events in science history for the Big Ol' Time Line of Science.  Duke it out over  people, places, events and times.   The BOTLOS will be updated based on discussions here.

Contestants take your corners.  I want a clean fight.  No hitting below the belt.  No sucker punches. When the bell rings, come out swinging.  


Image from Turbo Squid.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Annoucing Project BOTLOS!!!

Big Ol' Time Line O' Science

In order to get a sense for the arc of history for writing my novel, I decided to make a timeline of significant people and events (mostly scientific, but not exclusively). I'm sure there are existing time lines available that are far more complete (and accurate?!)  but it was a wonderful exercise for me to build my own.  My goal was to appreciate the historic back drop of Cambridge University of the late 1800s.  But as I continued to read and research, the timeline project grew.

And now I'd like to enlist your help to put some meat on these bones.  The timeline is very heavy in European science, especially around the late 19th century.   It also has more holes than Swiss cheese.  I invite you to submit items of that have significant scientific implications  and corrections too.  I won't even mention the tremendous Bonus Point potential here (oops, I just mentioned it!).  Discussions around historical figures and events are more than welcome.  Consider this a boxing ring and great place to spar over the history of science.   Some items on this timeline are fictional and specific to my novel.  I'm including them here to help me keep things straight.  

The timeline is too long to put on the front page of the blog.  This is the actual BOTLOS timeline. Check it out!

1/24/09 UPATED: I've just added an actual BOTLOS Boxing Ring.  Because the timeline is long, I wanted to have a place that has faster load times for all of the commenting.  So this is where you see the BOTLOS and this is the boxing ring where the battle takes place over items within the time line. 


Thursday, January 22, 2009

You're Out of Your Mind. No, really.

Leave the Lights On reminded me of the tenuous wonder of the beginning of life in the post How Human Fertilization Takes Place.  And then the post hearkened back to my high school biology class where I originally learned what "haploid" and "diploid" meant.  Then forgot.  But it also hearkened back to a book called "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made" by Dr. Paul Brand and Phillip Yancy.  And when I hearkened back to that book, I hearkened back to the chapter on neurons*.  

The authors discuss a very strange, yet amazing aspect of our nervous system.  And that is the hierarchy and delegation of tasks in our body's nervous system.  Your brain controls many aspects of movement.  But not all.  There are other "wills" or "minds" located throughout your body.  

You can consciously tell yourself, "Hey!  Chump!  Pick up that spoon and pack down that entire pint of Ben and Jerry's Chubby Hubby ice cream."  So, at your brain's direction, you stroll to the freezer and enjoy the peanut buttery-chocolatey-pretzely-malty bliss. That is one level of the hierarchy of your nervous system: direct commands from your brain to your body.  

Midway through the pint, your stomach might say, "Hey! Buddy!  I'm a bit crammed down here.  Why don't you step away from the ice cream, just put the spoon down.  That's it.  Slowly now."  But then your mind says, "Nuh uh!  Deal with it pal! Because I want more and I'm making this spoon dig out that huge chocolate chunk and shove it down your maw!"  And then shoulder, arm, and hand and fingers obey the brain.  Much to your stomach's dismay.**

But your body has other control centers, apart from your brain.   Let's say that on the way to the freezer, there's a rusty nail poking up through the floor board.  And let's say you step on the rusty nail.   Your foot, by it's own control and volition, apart from your brain, instantly registers the pain and immediately withdraws. Completely on its own accord.  The pain signal was not sent to your brain, processed, then a signal sent from the brain to the foot instructing it to withdraw.  That would take way too long.  And this happens with not only your foot.   In a sense, there's a "mind" or "will" in your hand too.  Because as you were hopping up and down, hollering in agony from stepping on the nail, you tried to steady yourself by placing your hand on the stove.  Which was still on.  So now what happens?  A pain signal sent from your hand up to the brain, processed, then a signal sent back to the hand to withdraw?  Nope.  The hand controls itself (!) and withdraws immediately. Soon after, the brain might signal your hand to punch the counter in anger and for how stupid you feel.   But the initial reflex occurred independently.

Yet both the foot and the hand have their own "minds" or "will" located in just a few nerves attached to a few muscles.  To a significant degree, you are not controlled by your brain.  You are out of your mind.    But, as Dr. Brand shows, the will of one "mind" can over-ride the will of another.  If you're trying to escape a burning airplane, your head can tell you to run across broken glass, jagged metal, burning shards in order to save your life; overriding the will of your feet that would otherwise recoil in a normal situation to such stimuli.

You could argue that each cell within the body is autonomous and has a mind of its own.  It receives instructions and participates in various feedback loops, cooperates with other cells, but at any time could decide to act on its own, depending on the stimuli that it receives.

I consider "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made" to be essential reading if you're fascinated by the workings of the human body.   Do yourself a favor, grab a pint of Chubby Hubby and read the book cover to cover.  You'll not be disappointed (in either the book or the ice cream).  

And if you're not fascinated by the workings of the human body, well... you're out of your mind!!!

The Fine Print
*I realize that by this time you're probably hearkening back your hand ready to slap me upside the head if I use the word "hearken" just one more time.  I know.  It's just that some words are so delightful, and under-used that I just have to give them some love from time to time.  I promise I won't use the word "hearken" any more in this blog.  Nay, more than promise.  I vow to not say "hearken" again.  Yup.  You can count on me that "hearken" might as well not even exist, because my keyboard will not type the letters H E A R K E N in that order anymore.  Five Bonus Points if you come up with other delightful but neglected words.

**Later, the stomach might get it's revenge with it's own will and revolt.  But in the meantime, the brain is totally in control.  Oh yeah!  Now dig out that big ol' pretzel.  Oh yeah!  So much crunchy malty goodness in that bite!!

1/23/08 Update: I'm giving "Leave the Lights On" 10 bonus points for some Paint graphics.  Not because the graphics are spectacular, but because they are exactly what I would've done and I'm glad the bar wasn't set too high.     ;)

1/23/08 Update: Boris corrected me in the comments that the withdrawl reflex originates in the spine.  Much thanks!  10 bonus points to him.  Now if only Chubby Hubby could be purchased with BPs...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The New "Old School"

Thank you, thank you, thank you Make for turning my attention to the CF Useless Projects site! This is the ideal solution to a major dilemma for me.  On the one hand, I'm a gadget geek and technofile.  On the other hand I pine for the artistry and craftmanship of historic scientific instruments such as astrolabes and compendia.  Here are just two Useless Projects to make your mouth water.

Wooden Computer Case:

USB Thumb Drive:

And while we're at it, I should also thank Make for showing me the Wooden Vespa.  Definitely new "old school".

5 Bonus Points if you can show me other new techno-gadgety things that have some old school craftmanship.  And I'm putting MAKE on the Leader Board with 10 BPs for their must see website that produces a steady stream of wonders.

Get those "One Giant Leap" votes in!

Perhaps you've already voted for the scientific advancement that you consider to be the "One Giant Leap".    But if not, get over there and vote, join the discussion.  We're looking for which single advancement pushed science the farthest in one increment.  Or, perhaps you're thinking, "Those ideas suggested are corn*, and  I have a way better one!"  If that's you, then we'd love to hear from you in the comments to the post.  I think there are some very thought-provoking candidates for the One Giant Leap, but we might be missing something.  Bring it.  Vote! 

The Fine Print
*If you're tired of all the old, worn out, traditional swear words, I'd like to suggest "corn" as an outstanding subsitution.  Try it for a week.  I think you'll be delighted.  The term can be used across multiple cursing disciplines with a wide variety of applications. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Free Comedy Gold from Craig's List: Banned from Ebay

The second gem in a new serial feature at TSON from the free classifieds of Craig's List.  Verbatim.  


Free - HUNDREDS of bubble envelopes / mailers (used) 

Literally HUNDREDS of USED bubble mailer envelopes. 

All used, but still re-usable and in excellent condition. Nice variety of sizes: mostl #2's (approx 8.5" x 11") but many smaller and larger ones too. There's a 33 gal. bag FULL of them, so there's easily 100-200+ of these mailers in there.  I don't want to landfill these, so please help me be GREEN and put them to good use! Ebay note: If you plan to use these to ship items sold by ebay, you MUST remove or black-out my name/address on these mailers. I have been permanently banned from using ebay. If one of your buyers sees my 'handle' and reports you, ebay will permanently ban you as well! No questions asked.  And you can't appeal their decision. Don't risk it, just grab a sharpie and black-out my name. I had this curbside, but weather has forced me to bring it in. If you're interested, please email me and we can set up a time for you to pick it up. THANK YOU


I'm offering, for a limited time, 5 bonus points for other items you think is comedy gold from Craig's list.   Act now while supplies last!  And, as the big prize, I'm offering 10 bonus points to the person who invents the best background story to this poor soul banned from Ebay. 

Monday, January 19, 2009

Must Read...

I'd like to get your recommendations for "Must Read" books and/or blogs in the areas of science, history and faith.  It's not that I'm short of reading material, or have excess time on my hands, but I'm always scouring for treasures.

One bonus point for each quality* suggestion you make as a show of my appreciation.


The Fine Print
*You know what I mean by this.  Do I even need any fine print?

"Science may enrich faith, but not visa versa"?

Recently Science and Religion News posted  a video link of a lecture by Dr. Lawrence Krauss entitled Science and Religion: Two Ships in the Night. This is the money line from an abstract that sent the hamster on my mental wheel running like a banshee: 

At best , science and religion have very little to do with one another. At worst, they are completely incompatible. And what little connection between the two even in the best of cases involves a one-way street. Science may enrich faith, but not vice versa. [emphasis mine].
Being both a Christian and a scientist, this quote not only gave me pause, it wrapped up "pause"  in a nice gift bag with a pretty bow and a little note that said, "To: Brian, Love: Quote".

Let me leave aside the extensive contributions of people of faith to science because I don't believe that is the speaker's intention (though it does play a role in the issue).   To me,  faith makes this chief contribution to science: from faith springs freedom.  And from freedom springs freedom of thought.  And from freedom of thought springs the riches of science.

To bolster my claim I offer these words from the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness...  And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
I argue that the faith of the founders of the United States planted the unalienable right of liberty into the soil of this country. And from that fertile  ground grew scientific contributions too many to number.   This goes far beyond a "little connection" or two ships passing in the night.   I think that faith has served as a tug which pulled science out of the harbor into the deep waters.  Yes science started before the foundation of America, but the connection of faith and science has a rich history.  

Your thoughts on the connection of faith and science are more than welcome.  I'd also like to pick your brain on the Dr. Krauss lecture in general and in particular his quote, "Science may enrich faith, but not visa versa." 

There's also some interesting overlap with the "One Giant Leap" contributions, which you should see if you haven't already.  (Oh yeah, don't forget to vote there too!)

Updated 1/20/09: Rocket Scientist  is "Joining in the Worm Toss" of this conversation.  Be sure to pick up the thread there too because is has some excellent discourse that merits your time regardless of where you stand on this issue. 
Update 1/21/09: Picture updated.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bonus Points Store House O' Prizes

New Items Just Arrived in the S.H.O.P.!!!

Now you can get fabulous stuff with the Bonus Points you've earned from contributions to TSON. Fortunately I have connections in places and have been able to secure stuff for you to buy with Bonus Points.

Just post a comment on this SHOP  page indicating what you'd like buy, then the minions of TSON will deduct the BPs from your account and change in the Leader Board.  Satisfaction is practically guaranteed.

Now you face a dilemma: Do you try to be atop the Bonus Point Leader Board and get the respect of your peers? Or do you cash in some BPs to get terrific stuff?  An age old problem (just back off Zeno!!! This one is not for you!!! Back off!!!)

Here's what's hot off the gridle!

Store House O' Prizes*
2   Bonus Points = Recommendation for an outstanding mountain bike trail system.  

2   BPs = Recommendation of my top 5 blogs.

2   BPs = A step by step  guide for how to make a backpacking stove out of a pepsi can.

4   BPs = You decide the next post on The Secret of Newton (choose one from the topics of science, history, faith, Free Comedy Gold from Craig's List, Cool or Creepy)

5   BPs = Interesting geology factoid not likely to be commonly known to the general population.

10 BPs = I will share my tightly guarded source of outstanding coffee which donates a portion of the sales to the charity of your choice.  This is killing two birds with one stone: caffiene and charity!

1,000* BPs = Learn the actual secret of Newton.

20,000* BPs = Posting of my infamous "mullet" picture.

More fabulous stuff will be added to the Store House O' Prizes so  check back regularly!  

Fine Print

*Prices subject to change.

Bonus Points: The Super Brand New, Completely Unique Feature on The Secret of Newton

We* here at The Secret of Newton are always striving to improve your blog reading experience and give you a little somthn'  that you just can't get at any other blog anywhere else on the world wide web of information.

So today we* roll out......... Bonus Points!!!!

That's right, here at TSON and only at TSON can you earn Bonus Points.    

And to stem the flood of questions that will poor in from across the world wide web of information about these Bonus Points I've prepared  a little thing that I've called a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions).  Which is yet another thing that nobody else has on the world wide web of information.  Soon everybody will be offering bonus points and FAQs on their sites.  But remember, you saw it here first.

Bonus Point Question #1:  How  can I get bonus points?
Bonus Point Answer #1:  In a myriad of ways.

BPQ #2: Such as?
BPQ #2: Well you might send me a great suggestion for the "Cool or Creepy" feature.

BPQ #3: And?
BPA #4: Or you might leave an outstanding comment to a post that furthers the discussion or deepens the topic as all great comments should.

BPQ #4:  Is that it?  Doesn't sound like a "myriad" to me.
BPA #4: No, that's not it.  You could also get Bonus Points by answering questions posed within the posts.  Or by showing me outstanding blogs that you thing are relevant to science, history or faith. Or by referring TSON to other folks.  Or BPs shall be handed out on a whim by the admin of TSON for outstanding contributions and participation to this blog.  If you want to jump out to a head start on the leader board click the "Bonus Point" label link in the side bar to  to look for Bonus Point offers on previous points that have yet to be capitalized on.  Some real opportunities are lurking out there!  Plus I've given a few people some good will bonus points for being early visitors to TSON and getting the blog off the ground. 

BPQ #5: Hold on, this is starting to sound a little MLM'ish to me.
BPA #5: Not even close, I can't stand multi-level marketing schemes.  Bonus points won't get shady in any way.  

BPQ #6: So what can I do with Bonus Points anyway?  
BPA #6:  Good question.

BPQ #7:  Well?
BPA #7:  Well what?

BPQ #8: What good are Bonus Points for?  What can I do with them?
BPA #8:  Terrific questions!

BPQ #9: Look, I'm getting a bit ticked off now.  Can I do any thing with these &%#! points or not?
BPA #9: Hey!  You just lost 5 Bonus Points for being snarky and using punctuation symbols to swear.  Just call down.  The answer is that Bonus Points are useful for a myriad of things.  But mostly they're great just to have.  I imagine in time there will become a black market for Bonus Points and you'll see them being sold on Ebay for real money.  Until them, just hang on to them and try to get more than other people.  That's usually the fiducial for the value of stuff.  Just compare your Bonus Points to other people's.  But I'm sure they'll be worth something some day.

BPQ #9a: Won't this just cheapen the discourse?  I mean, shouldn't people want to discuss science, history and faith for it's intrinsic value, not for some artificial point system that doesn't really mean anything in the grand scheme of things.
BPA #9a: Yeah, I see what you mean.  But I look at it like this.  The primary motivation for any effort should be for it's intrinsic value or for the contribution it adds to the community.  But if you can add another extrinsic reward on top of that it's... well... Bonus Points!!!!  Besides, even most things that are done for intrinsic value don't matter in the grand scheme of things.  So why not get a few BPs along the way?

BPQ #9b: But bonus points have nothing to do with science, history or faith. So why add them to your blog?
BPA #9b:  Actually, I had a physics teacher in high school who used a bonus point system.  And I credit him for instilling a life-long passion for science within me.    Besides, the value of any given item is established by he community itself.  Look at the huge value we place on money, which is just paper.  But we've agreed that it's worth something.   The theory of money is interesting.  Perhaps, since we're off the gold standard, we should go on the Bonus Points standard.

BPQ #10:  How will I know how many Bonus Points I have?
BPA #10:  We* here at TSON will keep a "Bonus Point Leader Board" which will be available at just a convenient click of the mouse button from your world wide web of information browser. Look at the side bar where it says "Bonus Point Leader Board".

BPQ #11:  This is terrific.  Thanks for setting it up.  I'm really glad TSON is doing this because nobody else on the world wide web of information has any system even close to being as cool as this.
BPA #11: Thank you very much.  That is very kind.   I'm giving you 10 bonus points for the flattery.  But, I'm afraid, I'll have to subtract 10 bonus points for not asking a question.  BPQ#11 were just statements.

The Fine Print
*Me, here at TSON

Mental WebEx of "Imagining the Tenth Dimension" Video

Fifteen bonus points to the son of my friend Mary who showed me this outstanding video on understanding the tenth dimension.    Thanks Dallin!!

And now, exclusively on The Secret of Newton, I'd like to announce the world premier of the first ever mental WebEx (mWebEx), where your computer isn't seeing what is happening on another computer screen, but your mind*.  What follows is a transcript of my thoughts as I watch this  Tenth Dimension video.

OK, I'm turning on the mWebEx device now.

[Insert sound of static, resolving slowly into a clear  beep indicating that the connection is secured]

[Begin Thought Transcription]

Chicken pot pie!  Chocolate covered raisins!  Glazed ham!**  What?  Oh!  The mWebEx has started!!! Oops.  OK, I'm going to start watching the video.

[Video starts with a point on a piece of paper]

First dimension.  Piece of cake (weird I'm thinking about food a bunch.  Darn, can they hear that?)  OK, that's easy.  1D here we go, just a point, infinitely small.  Like that plate of ravioli I had for dinner tonight.  Man that was good, but the serving sizes could've been bigger than a  spec.  Shoot!  Back on track, man!  You have the world wide web of information listening to you ramble.  C'mon!   Right.  Take that point and connect it to another by a straight line, to make the first dimension.  Easy squeezy.

[Video draws intersecting line]

No problem.  Second dimension.  Blah, blah, blah.  I should've been an astrophysicist. This stuff is so simple.    

[Video shows flatlander being dissected by his digestive track.]

That's gotta hurt. How does the pour sap drink his coffee?  Man, I'd get a raging headache if I was a flatlander and couldn't drink coffee.  

[Video shows 3D human.]

Length, width, height.  3D. Sheesh, is this Sesame Street or what?  I thought I was going to learn something from this video.  And man! they're skimping on the computer animation.  No color even?  Cheapskates...  There had better be a car chase scene.   Or that this is like a Sixth Sense deal where you learn that the guys is a ghost.

[Video: "You fold one dimension to get to the next higher dimension"]

Umm, alright.... I get that mostly.  Gears are turning just a little bit.  OK, this is getting interest. Fold the second dimension to move through the third dimension.  

[Video:  "Duration" is the word that describes the 4th dimension]

Yeah... folding....When am I going to fold that huge pile of laundry on my couch?  Maybe I could fold it through the fourth dimension and it will be done in the future and I won't have to worry about folding it now. That would be sweeeet! Maybe I will learn something after all from this video.

[Video: "If you were to see yourself in the fourth dimension it would be a long undulating snake"]

Alright, that looks nothing like a snake.  More like a slug.  So he's saying the 4th dimension is a slug?  What????  This guy has no clue what he's talking about.  Snakes look like snakes.  Not slugs.  C'mon buddy, get your analogies in line.

[Video: "You're unaware of motions in dimensions above and below you."]

Yeah, like that mullet I had in high school. I'm completely unaware of why the "me" in the past EVER thought that was  a good idea.  With my yearbook picture alone that "old me" chump completely shot down the political career of the "future me".  Thanks buddy!  Get a hair cut, why don't you!!!!

[Video: "Quantum physics tells us that subatomic particles are collapsed from the waves of probability simply by the act of observation."]

Ummm.... OK, that was an abrupt transition.  We just went from Sesame Street to Stephen Hawking's Lucasian Chair lecture at Trinity College.  Alright, hang in there Brian.  You know what subatomic particles are, you know what probability is, you know what observation is....  Umm...I think I just reached that point when you are walking deeper into a very, very cold pool of water.  Eeep!

[Video: "Intermittent wave of probable futures"]

Hang in there Brian.... take deep breaths.  He's just saying that the 5th dimension gets collapsed down into the fourth dimension by actions and choices...  Right?  I think I understand.  So if I choose not to grow a mullet today, then I'm eliminating years of humiliation and shame tomorrow as a path in my future.   Right? Right?  Hello?  Echo echo echo echo.... I've got to concentrate... concentrate... concentrate***....

[Video: "What if you wanted to go back in time and visit yourself as a child."]

Yeah!  With some scissors!

[Video: Fold the 5th dimension through the 6th dimension.]

OK, so what is that genius invention that kid has in the video?  Looks like a possum trap!  Not sure if that would make that kid wildly rich, but it would sure take care of some critters in my basement!

[Video: To imagine the 7th dimension, treat all of the possible outcomes of the universe as a single point that includes all possible time lines]

Owwww!  Owww! My head is starting to ache!!

[Video: Infinity is a point in the 7th dimension.]

Grrrrrr!! Owwwww!!  I think my head is splitting apart!!!

[Video: Different universes set up with different initial conditions than are represented byother points of infinity.]

[Puddle of drool and glazed look in my eyes, which are going slightly crossed. To retreat I start singing the Barney song.]

I love you.  You love me.  We're all part of a family.  With a great big hug**** ....

[Video: Enter the eight dimension by drawing a line that branches off the line connecting two points of infinity within the 7th dimension.]

[Smoke now coming from my nostrils.  Train of thought is now purely random images from my life.]

Huffy Thunder Road bicycle... penny loafer shoes... tank Atari game... 

[Video: As we enter the 10th dimension imagine all of the possible time lines from all possible universes as a single point within the 10th dimension.]

Beef stroganoff... Volkswagen bug... pinewood derby car.

[Video: In String Theory, physicists tell us that that vibration of superstrings in the 10th dimension are what create the subatomic particles which make up our universe.]

[No thoughts.  Just large puddle of drool.  End mWebEx transmission.]

The Fine Print
*This will make a fine Cool or Creepy post some day.

**Ten bonus points to the first person to identify the source of this quote.

*** Three bonus points to you for naming the movie where this came from.

****Subtract 10 bonus points if you know any more of this song.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Epicycles: A glorious error

Then burn thy Epicycles foolish man;
Break all thy spheres and save thy head.
Faith needs no staffe of flesh, but stoutly can
To heav'n alone both go and leade.

Excerpt from "The Temple", George Herbet, 1638

Epicycles are an example to me of a glorious error.   Most errors in life are typically embarassing, ugly or cringe-worthy (dropping the ice cream off the cone, stepping in a dog pile, calling an old friend by the wrong name).    But the constructs of epicycles (the geocentric attempt at explaining retrograde planetary motion) are gorgious and stunning.  Wrong, yes, but beautiful. Even poem worthy!  Thank you very much Mr. Herbet.

Prior to a heliocentric model of the cosmos, astronomers had a very difficult time explaining the wandering (retrograde) motion of the planets in the sky with respect to other stars.  The wriggle and wobbly path that planets took did not neatly conform to the perfect, spherical ideals of geocentrism.  Enter epicycles.   

In order to fit the wandering retrograde motion of a planet into the concept that the heavens are perfect and, therefore, in perfectly circular orbits, Ptolemy assigned planetary motions to smaller circles attached to a larger circle.    As shown in the animation above from the Natural Sciences 102 course at the University of Arizona, this epicycle motion does, in fact, yield circular motions with a wiggle to an observer on earth.   The problem is that epicyle-calculated planet motions do not precisly match accurate observations.  

But it is such a beautiful error. This 15th century astrolabe makes me practically wish for epicycles to be true, just so these instruments could be in common use and production today.

15th Century Astrolabe, from the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford.

When a simple epicycle did not accurately describe retrograde motion  then epicycles were placed into epicycles.  And the erroneous system became complicated.   Wonderfully so. Ptolemy's Almagest in which he outlines his concept of epicycles is fantastically detailed, highly analytical and gorgeously wrong.

I hold a weepy nostalgia for compendia.  And certainly I do for the epicycles and this astrolabe. Not for the error of the system, but for the beauty of the error.