Archive for the ‘My Life’ Category

Team America

July 19, 2016

In a recent post, Scott Adams has a few words to say about how persuaders can unite or divide us. Some of what he has to say matches things I have been thinking about for some time particularly on the subject of racism in America.

To begin with, Adams divides people into three categories.

Rational People: Use data and reason to arrive at truth. (This group is mostly imaginary.)

Word-Thinkers: Use labels, word definitions, and analogies to create the illusion of rational thinking. This group is 99% of the world.

Persuaders: Use simplicity, repetition, emotion, habit, aspirations, visual communication, and other tools of persuasion to program other people and themselves. This group is about 1% of the population and effectively control the word-thinkers of the world.

And people think in terms of in-groups and out-groups.

You can easily spot word-thinkers when they talk about politics. Their go-to strategy involves identifying enemies and fitting them into whatever category matches their biases and cognitive dissonance. Look for this form:

You can easily spot word-thinkers when they talk about politics. Their go-to strategy involves identifying enemies and fitting them into whatever category matches their biases and cognitive dissonance. Look for this form:

Examples:

  • Person X is liberal, or not
  • Person X is a conservative, or not
  • Person X is an insider, or not
  • Person X is a racist, or not
  • Person X is a legal resident, or not
  • Person X is like Hitler, or not
  • Person X is a science-denier, or not
  • Person X is a sexist, or not

So, part of being a politician is defining people and issues in such a way as to make their supporters feel as though they are a team and their opponents as part of the opposing team.

For example, Trump is trying to frame the election as Americans versus outsiders. To Trump, you’re either in the American category or you’re a threat to those who are, in terms of money or violence. You will note that Trump has avoided calling Clinton liberal. That category lost its power. But Trump has defined a “crooked insider” category for Clinton and makes sure you know she’s in it.

Clinton has avoided calling Trump conservative, because the label wouldn’t fit. Even conservatives have a hard time putting Trump in that category. But if the alternative is Clinton, conservatives will hold their nose and accept him in their group.

Clinton’s strategy – which has worked well – is to put Trump in the boxes that are labelled sexist, racist, science-denying, and Hitler. That’s too many boxes for the purposes of good persuasion. Persuasion requires simplicity. So team Clinton tried to create an overarching category called “hate,” in order to assign Trump to it. They even used the “love trumps hate” slogan. Trump has tried to get out of the hate box by talking about love and doing a lot of hugging.

 

The big risk with word-thinking during an election – with all the analogies and categorizing – is that the public starts to see the world in those terms and act that way. Clinton’s message has been that America is divided by race and gender, and suddenly we see a horrifying uptick in police shootings because it fits that world view. That blood is on team Clinton’s hands (my side), in my opinion. My guess is that the genders also have a more negative view of each other than at any time in history. That’s coming from my team as well.

Obama has not been the unifying figure that many people hoped he would be. It might have been better in a Nixon going to China way if the first Black president had been a Republican, perhaps with a military background. Instead we got someone who, as a community organizer and Marxist, was inclined to see people as opposing groups.

Trump, on the other hand, is drawing us a picture of America as one team and everyone else as the competing teams. In terms of persuasion, this is a super-strong message, but only if he hammers it home at the GOP Convention.

Have you ever noticed that professional sports teams are great at overcoming racism and getting everyone to play together? That’s because the coach has persuaded the players to see the team as their dominant identity. Trump can do the same with America. Just tell us we’re on the same team, and that we’re in afriendly competition with the rest of the world. I don’t care what gender and ethnicity you are, so long as you’re with me on the American team and helping to compete against the rest of the world.

The words “Team America” would be the strongest persuasion this country has ever seen. That framing loses the xenophobia and hate, and defines us as part of a friendly competition with the world that is good for all. The only downside is that Team America is the name of a hilarious puppet movie. But I think we can get past that.

Here is the part I have been wondering about. Have you ever noticed that the people who claim to be fighting against racism, sexism, etc are the same people who insist on dividing people by race, sex, etc. They emphasize our differences and bring up past and present grievances and then seem surprised when the result is not an increase in racial harmony.

Contrary to what is preached from every corporate human relations office, diversity is not always good. Homo Sapiens is a pack animal and we instinctively prefer member of our own pack, group, tribe, etc. Emphasizing differences and then preaching diversity only gives people reasons to dislike and distrust one another. If these people really wanted to end prejudice, they would emphasize our common identity as Americans, making us feel as though we were all one tribe or team. They would draw attention to the things we all have in common as Americans and minimise the differences between race, etc. I think we would all get along a lot better if we thought of ourselves as Americans first and anything else second. But, then maybe their goal is not fighting prejudice and racism but taking advantage of them to divide and rule.

 

 

Basidium

July 8, 2016

My favorite books when I was in the fifth and sixth grades were the Mushroom Planet books by Eleanor Cameron. These books were published back in the 1950’s and so were a little before my time, but fortunately the school library didn’t have a lot of new books. I must have checked out each of the books hundreds of times.

The Mushroom Planet, Basidium, was Earth’s second moon, a small asteroid orbiting just 50,000 miles away. Although only an asteroid, Basidium is made of a dense substance called Brumblium so it is able to retain an atmosphere and support life. The predominant form of life on Basidium is various forms of mosses and fungi, particularly tree sized mushrooms, hence the name Mushroom Planet. Even the inhabitants of Basidium are mushroom people, though they are humanoid in appearance.

Mushroom People

Mushroom People

Because Basidium is made of Brumblium, it cannot be detected by telescope without a special filter invented by Tyco M. Bass, himself a member of a race of terrestrial Mushroom people called the Mycetians, descendants of Basidiumites who perhaps travelled to Earth in the form of spores. In “the first book, “The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet“, Mr. Bass, with the help of his two young friends David Topman and Chuck Masterson builds a spaceship for the two boys to travel to Basidium and save the natives from a threat to their existence. In later books in the series, Chuck and Dave return to Basidium with a stowaway, meet Tyco Bass’s cousin Theo, and have other adventures.

Tyco Bass

It was a bit silly, I suppose, and the science is woefully out of date, but I really enjoyed reading them and always wished that I could meet Mr. Bass and travel to the Mushroom Planet. For that matter, I still like the books today, though I haven’t actually read them for many years. Too bad there isn’t really a second moon orbiting the Earth, or is there? According to this article in phys.org, maybe there is at least a “quasi-moon”.

A small asteroid has been discovered in an orbit around the sun that keeps it as a constant companion of Earth, and it will remain so for centuries to come.

As it orbits the , this new asteroid, designated 2016 HO3, appears to circle around Earth as well. It is too distant to be considered a true satellite of our planet, but it is the best and most stable example to date of a near-Earth companion, or “quasi-satellite.”

“Since 2016 HO3 loops around our planet, but never ventures very far away as we both go around the sun, we refer to it as a quasi-satellite of Earth,” said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object (NEO) Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “One other asteroid—2003 YN107—followed a similar orbital pattern for a while over 10 years ago, but it has since departed our vicinity. This new asteroid is much more locked onto us. Our calculations indicate 2016 HO3 has been a stable quasi-satellite of Earth for almost a century, and it will continue to follow this pattern as Earth’s companion for centuries to come.”

In its yearly trek around the sun, asteroid 2016 HO3 spends about half of the time closer to the sun than Earth and passes ahead of our planet, and about half of the time farther away, causing it to fall behind. Its orbit is also tilted a little, causing it to bob up and then down once each year through Earth’s orbital plane. In effect, this small asteroid is caught in a game of leap frog with Earth that will last for hundreds of years.

The asteroid’s orbit also undergoes a slow, back-and-forth twist over multiple decades. “The asteroid’s loops around Earth drift a little ahead or behind from year to year, but when they drift too far forward or backward, Earth’s gravity is just strong enough to reverse the drift and hold onto the asteroid so that it never wanders farther away than about 100 times the distance of the moon,” said Chodas. “The same effect also prevents the asteroid from approaching much closer than about 38 times the distance of the moon. In effect, this small asteroid is caught in a little dance with Earth.”

Asteroid 2016 HO3 was first spotted on April 27, 2016, by the Pan-STARRS 1 asteroid survey telescope on Haleakala, Hawaii, operated by the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy and funded by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. The size of this object has not yet been firmly established, but it is likely larger than 120 feet (40 meters) and smaller than 300 feet (100 meters).

There is no indications that there are any mushroom people in HO3. Too bad. I guess I won’t be meeting the Great Ta, the king of Basidium and his foolish wise men, Mebe and Oru.

Great Ta and his wise men

Great Ta and his wise men

Growing Crops on Mars

June 27, 2016

We may have already a taken a step towards the colonization of Mars. Any colony on Mars whether a permanent settlement or a long-term scientific research expedition will have to be largely self-sufficient because of the long travel time from Earth. At the very least, humans living on Mars for any great length of time will have to be able to get food and water on Mars, if possible. Obviously, given Mars’s thin atmosphere, it will not be possible to plant fields of crops out in the open, but it may be possible to create domed habitations in which vegetables can be grown. This would be a lot easier if Martian soil could be used or modified since bringing soil from Earth, or hydroponic equipment would likely be prohibitively expensive.

Mars

It is not clear whether terrestrial plants can grow in Martian soil, given the lack of organic matter and different chemical composition. There is some encouraging news from The Netherlands in this article in phys.org.

Dutch scientists said Thursday crops of four vegetables and cereals grown on soil similar to that on Mars have been found safe to eat, amid plans for the first manned mission to the planet.

Abundant harvests of radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes all grown on the soil were found to contain “no dangerous levels” of heavy metals, said the team from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

“These remarkable results are very promising,” said senior ecologist Wieger Wamelink.

“We can actually eat the radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes, and I am very curious what they will taste like.”

Future Mars settlers will have to take food supplies with them and then plant crops in order to survive.

So using soil developed by NASA to resemble that of the red planet, the university has been experimenting since 2013 and has managed to raise 10 crops.

But uncertainty remains about whether they would absorb the high levels of heavy metals such cadmium, copper and lead, present in Mars soil.

Further tests are now needed on the remaining six crops, including potatoes, in research which is being backed by a crowd-funding campaign.

NASA plans a manned trip to Mars within the next 10 to 15 years or so, and similar projects are also being pursued by US billionaire Elon Musk and the Dutch company Mars One, tentatively aiming to set up human colonies on the Red Planet.

The Mars One project has backed the Wageningen experiments and is currently undertaking a third selection to whittle down the remaining 100 candidates hoping to be among their astronauts to 40.

“It’s important to test as many crops as possible, to make sure that settlers on Mars have access to a broad variety of different food sources,” said Wamelink.

When I read the headline, I thought that they had grown the vegetables and grains in actual Martian soil samples and I was a little disappointed to learn that the soil used was Earth soil made to simulate Martian soil. It does show that it is at least possible to use Martian soil, though I think it would be better to obtain actual Martian soil to be sure. No matter how well designed our probes are, there is always a possibility that we have overlooked something that could be only be discovered by human beings in laboratories on Earth.

If the members of a Martian expedition do grow their own food, they will need to bring along bacteria from Earth to add the necessary organic components to make the soil more Earth-like. Such bacteria could be genetically modified to flourish in Martian conditions. No form of terrestrial life can survive on the surface of Mars, at present, the thin atmosphere cannot shield the surface from deadly ultraviolet radiation, but there is no reason Terran life couldn’t survive underground. Conditions wouldn’t that much worse than in Antarctica. This bacteria, adapted for Mars could be the first step in terraforming Mars for human habitation.

So, when can I leave for Mars?

One of these days, I'd like to look out my window and see this.

One of these days, I’d like to look out my window and see this.

Indiana’s Choice

May 2, 2016

For once, people actually care about how Indiana will vote in tomorrow’s primary. Indiana’s primary is held late in the season, the first Tuesday of May, and by that time both parties have usually all but decided who their presidential nominees are going to be. If the presumptive nominee has not actually acquired a majority of delegates, by the time Indiana gets to vote, at least he is in a position where he has the most delegates by a wide margin and most of the other candidates have dropped out. There may be one or two candidates hanging on, trying against the odds to eke out a victory, but everyone knows they have no hope. In the general election, Indiana almost always goes Republican and is not big enough or enough of a swing state for either candidate to bother fighting over.

This year it is different for Indiana. While Donald Trump is currently in the lead and some already  consider him the presumptive nominee, he has not yet managed to get a majority of delegates and may not have a majority when the Republican convention meets in Cleveland. Ted Cruz is still a viable candidate, though his chances of winning the nomination without some sort of convention manipulation of the delegate seems to be increasingly remote considering Trump’s recent string of victories. If Cruz can win Indiana, he might be able to break Trump’s momentum and at least deny him an outright victory before the convention. If Trump wins Indiana, Cruz might as well drop out, so Indiana voters might actually have some influence on the outcome of the 2016 election. Judging from the polls, Cruz has a decent chance of winning here.

I intend to vote for Cruz tomorrow because he is not Donald Trump, who I continue to distrust and dislike. It may be a futile gesture, however, since I am certain that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for president. By now, any Cruz victory will only delay this inevitable result. I really wish that the other Republican candidates had taken Trump seriously earlier in the race. They, and most commentators regarded Trump as a clown, until he started winning. By the time they realized that he was a greater threat than each other, it was too late.

I am going to go so far as to predict that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. I am not happy about this prospect, though he is preferable to either of the Democratic candidates. There are still many pundits who are assuming that a Trump candidacy will be a disaster for the Republicans, ending in a landslide victory for Hilary Clinton. The polls seem to affirm this, Trump has record high unfavorability ratings with just about every group, yet I am not sure the polls are telling the whole story. Trump has gone from victory to victory even as his opponents have been dropping out. One might think that the remaining candidates would have gotten the bulk of the anti-Trump votes while Trump’s proportion of the vote remained about the same, but that hasn’t been happening. Trump seems to have been gaining a treating proportion of the vote over time, as if the people who might have voted for Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, etc are deciding to support Trump. Somebody out there likes Trump, and despite what the liberals think, the majority of Americans are not hate filled bigots. Trump is obviously saying something that appeals to a great many Americans.

Without getting into a detailed analysis, I think that what appeals to most of Trump’s supporters is simply the idea that he is on their side and is willing to fight for them, even if it means he has to be politically incorrect or even crude. Most politicians try very hard not to offend any of the myriads of pressure groups who are perpetually offended and they back down and apologize just as soon as someone accuses them of racism, sexism, etc. Their public statements are bland and meaningless, and there is a feeling that they care less about the silent majorities who make this country work and more about the very loud minorities who seem intent on tearing the country down. People like a fighter, and Donald Trump is a fighter. He does not back down or apologize when someone claims to be offended, and people who are tired of having to watch every word they say like to see that. Trump is, at least in his public persona, a Jacksonian at a time when the Jacksonians are under attack.

I think that when the battle between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump gets underway, the Democrats and the media, but I repeat myself, will throw everything they can at Trump. He will be a racist, sexist, Islamophobe, and the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. I don’t think it will work. Many people in mainstream America, Trump’s natural base, have come to believe, with good reason, that the entertainment and new media is not on their side, that it is hostile to them and their values. If they believe that Donald Trump is on their side, attacks on Trump will be seen as attacks on themselves by people they already know despise them. And, of course, Trump will not simply sit by ignore Hilary’s attacks. He will respond and attack, thus ensuring that he continues to be seen as a fighter.

I guess I’d better get used to saying President Trump. I’m still not very happy about it.

Betting on the Devil

March 23, 2016

South Park is a vulgar show. The characters, especially the children, routinely use foul language. (The creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker insist that children really talk like that and that only hippies and Democrats believe children to be sweet and innocent. Judging from my own memories of childhood, I am inclined to believe that they are right.) There are crude sexual situations and toilet humor in many episodes, and more than a little violence. The show is irreverent and even blasphemous and they is nothing that Parker and Stone won’t made fun of. One might think that South Park is a show with no redeeming features at all.

I disagree. I wasn’t actually aware that South Park was still on television after nineteen seasons, since I do not get cable, but last year, I began to see praise for the nineteenth season’s take down of political correctness and I started to watch the latest episodes online. I found, to my amazement, that South Park was as funny and relevant as ever. I started to see that South Park is actually a very good show, perhaps the best on television right now. It has characters you can come to care about, interesting plots, including the multi-episode arc this season and even some well thought out lessons, for those who care to look. Despite the vulgarity, the essential values of South Park are surprisingly wholesome, even, believe it or not, Christian. This is all the more remarkable considering that Parker and Stone are agnostics.

As evidence for this startling assertion, I would like to go all the way back to the first season of South Park to an episode titled Damien. In this episode there is a new kid, named Damien attending South Park Elementary who happens to be the son of the Devil.

Damien

Damien

He is in South Park to deliver a challenge from his father to Jesus, depicted as hosting a public access cable show, Jesus and Pals. Satan wants to meet Jesus for the final confrontation in the boxing ring.

South Park Jesus

South Park Jesus

At first, all the residents of South Park are certain that Jesus will easily defeat the Devil and place bets on Jesus. Then Satan appears in South Park. While Jesus is a 135 pound weakling, Satan is a muscular 350 pounds. There seems to be no way Jesus can possibly beat Satan.

Satan

Satan

 

Everyone in South Park rushes to their bookies to change their bets to Satan winning the fight. In fact, only one person bets on Jesus. Jesus warns the residents of South Park not to bet on the Devil, but no one listens. The day of the fight arrives and the two combatants meet in the ring. Satan pounds away at Jesus, taunting Him all the while and daring Jesus to hit him. Finally Jesus manages to get a blow in and Satan is immediately knocked out, or so it seems. It turns out that Satan has thrown the fight. It was his plan to lose to Jesus all along and he was the one person who bet on Jesus to win. Satan taunts the people of South Park for their foolishness and then returns to Hell wealthier from his winnings.

This is a silly story and the portrayals of both Jesus and Satan owe more to popular culture conceptions than to Christian scripture or traditions. After all, Jesus was a carpenter by trade and his associates were working class men. He was hardly likely to be the effeminate wimp that He is all too often imagined to be. The episode does have a moral that Christians ought to consider. A lot of times, people are betting on the Devil to win.

The final conflict between the forces of good and evil is not going to be in a boxing ring and Satan is not going to take a dive. The book of Revelation is full of confusing symbolism that Christians have been arguing about for centuries, but the end is quite clear, Jesus wins.

The real Jesus

The real Jesus

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

king of kings and lord of lords.

17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave,great and small.”

19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.21 The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (Rev. 19:11-20:3)

When I say that there are many Christians who are betting on the Devil to win, I do not mean, of course, that there are people who believe that Satan is going to defeat Heaven and rule the universe. I am referring to a certain lack of faith that God will overcome all of our difficulties in the end. People who are worried about the economy or terrorism, or declining morals, or even their own personal problems , are, in a way, betting that the Devil is winning. We must have faith that God as the Author of history has a plan for the world and for each one of us. Whatever our personal or national difficulties, we must not lose faith that Jesus will win in the end and His will will be done. As Jesus himself has commanded us.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)

So stop worrying and betting on the Devil.

Pi Day

March 14, 2016
English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University o...

English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University of Technology, applied physics, seismics and acoustics Deutsch: Pi Pie (π-Kuchen), hergestellt an der Technischen Universität Delft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For all of the nerds out there, including me, today is international Pi Day, the day when we celebrate our favorite mathematical constant. Pi Day is best celebrated by pi memorization contests, walking in circles, and, of course, eating pies, or is it pis? I think I will celebrate by writing a little about pi. This year is a special Pi Day. The first digits of pi are 3.1415926 with can be rounded to 3.1416 so this year 3/14/16 is the the Rounded Pi Day

Pi or π is, as everyone should know, the ratio between a circle’s diameter and its circumference. Pi is an irrational number. By this, they do not mean that pi makes no sense but rather that pi is a constant that cannot be expressed as a ratio of two integers. Numbers like 2 or .445 or 1/2 can be expressed as a ratio of two integers and so are rational. Numbers like pi or the square root of any number that is not a perfect square, the square root of 2 for instance, are irrational. An irrational number expressed in decimal form never ends or repeats but continues to infinity. Thus, there can never be a last digit of pi.

The symbol π was first by the mathematician William Jones in 1706 and was popularized by another mathematician, Leonhard Euler. They chose π, the Greek equivalent of the Latin letter p, because it is the first letter of the word periphery. Π, by the way is not pronounce “pie” in Greek but “pee”, just like our p. I don’t think that international “pee” day would be nearly so appealing.

Although the symbol for pi is relatively recent, the concept is very old. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians knew about it. Pi is even mentioned in the Bible.

23 He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits[o] to measure around it. 24 Below the rim, gourds encircled it—ten to a cubit. The gourds were cast in two rows in one piece with the Sea. (1 Kings 7:23-24)

Properly speaking, the line around the “Sea” should have been 31.5 cubits but the ancient Hebrews were very knowledgeable about geometry and measuring techniques were crude.

There is no particular reason to calculate pi to so many digits. No
conceivable application of pi would possibly take more than 40 digits.
Still, the challenge of calculating pi to the farthest digit possible has been an irresistible one for mathematicians over the years.

Around 250 BC, Archimedes was the first mathematician to seriously try to calculate pi. He used a geometric method of drawing polygons inside and outside a circle and measuring their perimeters. By using polygons with more and more sides he was able to calculate pi with more precision and ended determining the value of pi as somewhere between 3.1408 and 3.1429. Archimedes’s method was used in the west for more than a eighteen hundred years. The Chinese and Indians used similar methods. The best result using the geometric method was the calculation of pi to 38 digits in 1630.

With the development of calculus by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz in the 1660’s it was possible to calculate pi using infinite series, or the sum of the terms of an infinite sequence. The best calculations with these methods were done by the mathematician Zacharias Daze who calculated pi to 200 places in 1844 and William Shanks who spent fifteen years to calculate pi to 707 digits. Unfortunately he made a mistake with the 528 digit. Meanwhile, in 1761 Johann Heinrich Lambert proved that pi is irrational.

Computers made the calculation of pi much faster so pi could be calculated to more digits. ENIAC calculated pi to 2037 places in 1949. This record didn’t last long. A million digits were reached 1970. As of  2011, pi has been calculated to 10,000,000,000,050 places.

Pi is not just used in geometry. There are a number of applications of pi in the fields of statistics, mechanics, thermodynamics, cosmology, and many others. Here is a list of just some of the formulae that use pi. It seems you can find pi everywhere.

With that in mind then, happy pi day! For your enjoyment here are the first thousand digits of pi.

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510
  58209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679
  82148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128
  48111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196
  44288109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091
  45648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273
  72458700660631558817488152092096282925409171536436
  78925903600113305305488204665213841469519415116094
  33057270365759591953092186117381932611793105118548
  07446237996274956735188575272489122793818301194912
  98336733624406566430860213949463952247371907021798
  60943702770539217176293176752384674818467669405132
  00056812714526356082778577134275778960917363717872
  14684409012249534301465495853710507922796892589235
  42019956112129021960864034418159813629774771309960
  51870721134999999837297804995105973173281609631859
  50244594553469083026425223082533446850352619311881
  71010003137838752886587533208381420617177669147303
  59825349042875546873115956286388235378759375195778
  18577805321712268066130019278766111959092164201989

 

Space Seed

February 7, 2016

I have just finished watching the Star Trek Original Series episode “Space Seed“, probably one of the better episodes of the series, not least because it introduced the character of Khan Noonian Singh, one of the greatest villains of the entire Star Trek franchise and the antagonist of the best of the Star Trek movies, “The Wrath of Khan“. Ricardo Montalban‘s performance as Khan is truly wonderful, maybe the best of his career, as he portrays the villain just sympathetically enough for the viewers to admire and understand Khan while not forgetting that he is the bad guy.

uApht

Khan is presented as a compelling figure. The result of scientific efforts to improve the human race through selective breeding, and probably genetic engineering, though that technology was scarcely imagined in the 1960’s, Khan and his followers are physically and intellectually superior to normal humans. Because of this superiority, the supermen decided that they had a natural right to rule over lesser humans and their attempt to conquer the world caused a series of wars called the Eugenics Wars. Upon being revived by the crew of the Enterprise, Khan perceives that the crew is made up of unmodified, inferior humans and naturally repays Kirk’s hospitality by attempting to seize the Enterprise and embark on a new career of conquest throughout the galaxy. Khan may be a megalomaniac, but his megalomania is justified because he really is superior to everyone around him.

Towards the end of the episode, when Kirk offers to drop all charges against Khan, if Khan and his followers agree to settle the barren but habitable planet Ceti Alpha V, Khan replies by asking Kirk if he is familiar with Milton. Khan is referring to the famous line in Milton’s Paradise Lost in which Lucifer declares that it is better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. It is an appropriate sentiment for Khan since he and Milton’s Lucifer are much alike. Both are proud, strong-willed beings who are charismatic enough leaders to inspire their subjects to follow them even to Hell, or the hellish Ceti Alpha V. Khan is superficially charming and gracious, yet like Lucifer, the arrogance, lust for power and cruelty in his nature is never far below the surface. Khan has no compunctions about suffocating the bridge crew of the Enterprise in order to capture the ship. Khan’s fate is not unlike Lucifer’s. In the course of Paradise Lost, Lucifer becomes increasingly consumed by his pride and hatred until he descends into nihilism and madness as the demonic Satan. If he cannot rule, than he will spoil and ruin Paradise and its inhabitants, Adam and Eve. By the time of the events of the Wrath of Khan, Khan has been driven mad by the wrongs that he believes that Kirk has done him. Khan no longer wants his empire but only to destroy.

It is true that Kirk and Scotty note that there were no great massacres in the territories under his control. Apparently Khan did rule with some degree of justice, yet I imagine that it was expedience rather than any moral reservations that inspired Khan. He must have been shrewd enough to realize that mass murders are counter productive in establishing an empire and since he was guided by no ideology like Communism or Nazism, but only interested in his rightful place as ruler, he had little reason to commit the horrible acts of genocide of a Hitler or Stalin. The wise farmer does not wantonly slaughter his cattle, but takes care to keep them healthy. Khan probably felt the same way about his human cattle. As Spock retorts, there was also little freedom under his rule.

khan-star-trek-ii

I wonder whether Kirk or Khan were really as familiar with Milton as they believed. It is a commonly held view that Lucifer became the ruler of Hell in Paradise Lost, but Milton was more clever than that. In fact, Milton makes it clear in the end that Satan does not rule in Hell. Because God’s sovereignty extends to every part of the universe, including Hell, Satan was as much God’s servant in Hell as he was in Heaven. Satan was lying to himself and to his demons when he said that famous line.

If Kirk really knew his Milton, he would have known the folly of letting Khan go under any circumstances. Even if Lucifer had really been the ruler of Hell, he would not have long been content. Almost as soon as Satan recovers from the fall into Hell, he escapes and makes his way to Earth and Paradise. Satan could not be satisfied with only a part of the universe, he wanted to rule it all, and if he could not have it, he wanted to destroy it. Khan’s lust for domination and power could never have been satisfied with homesteading on a barren, deserted planet. It wouldn’t take long before Khan would want more. Kirk had no way of anticipating the destruction of the planet and the events that led to the Wrath of Khan, but he surely ought to have realized that Khan would attempt to seize any star ship that stopped by Ceti Alpha V.

That might be part of the reason that The Wrath of Khan is a good movie. In the original series, Kirk and crew travel from planet to planet solving problems and making decisions and we never get to see the consequences of their actions. None of the writers anticipated Star Trek movies or any other series being made and there wasn’t much interest in writing an episode revisiting old planets when there seemed to be a whole galaxy to explore. In those days, television series had self-contained episodes and no one thought of extending a plot arc over several episodes, or an entire season. In the Wrath of Khan, and its sequels, we finally do see Kirk face the consequences of his decision, and it isn’t pleasant for him. It makes me wonder how some of Kirk’s actions in other episodes turned out, and how many other children he has running around the galaxy.

Al Jazeera America Shutting Down

January 17, 2016

I was a little surprised to learn that Al Jazeera America is shutting down its cable news network. Here is the story from the BBC.

Al Jazeera America will shut down its cable news channel despite spending heavily to break into the US market.

CEO Al Anstey said the business model “is simply not sustainable in light of the economic challenges”.

Al Jazeera America launched in 2013 vowing to be a more serious and in-depth alternative to CNN and Fox News.

The Qatar-based broadcaster spent millions of dollars hiring top US journalists but struggled to bring viewers to its news programmes.

Al Jazeera promised to expand its coverage of the US online after the channel shuts down in April.

The network replaced Current TV, a network founded by former US Vice President Al Gore.

The Qatar-based broadcaster bought Current TV for around $500 million (£308 million).

Al Jazeera America was available in about 60 million American homes. Politiconotes that the channel reached an average of 19,000 viewers each day in 2015, far fewer than its competitors.

The channel struggled with internal turmoil, as well, including multiple discrimination lawsuits that ended up ousting its founding CEO.

I wonder why Al Jazeera found it so difficult to break into the US market. Part of the reason might be that many American viewers did not believe that a news network funded by the Qatari government to be a trustworthy source of news. The Arabic name might not have helped. Al Jazeera sounds as if it could be the Osama bin Laden News Network. I think, though, that Al Jazeera’s main difficulty was simply that the North American market for TV news is saturated. We already have Fox, MSNBC, CNN, not to mention ABC, NBC, and CBS, and the BBC from across the Pond. There is probably simply not enough room for another news network. I also believe that the audience for TV news is declining, just as it as been for newspapers. I am too lazy to look up the ratings right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a shift towards the internet as the major source of news for many people, particularly for younger people. I notice that Al Jazeera is maintaining their online activities.

In a way it’s a shame, though. American news badly needs more diversity of viewpoints. Most of the news we get here in America is increasingly superficial and celebrity oriented, not to mention biased to the left. Fox is perhaps more evenhanded than most, with a bias to the right, but one right center network and a host of leftist networks, all based in the US hardly makes for much diversity. At least, we have the internet.

The Nativity According to Luke

December 20, 2015

Here is what Christmas is all about

 

 

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke. There are two accounts of Jesus’s birth in the New Testament, the account that Luke gives and the account that Matthew gives. Mark ignores the question of Jesus’s birth entirely, preferring to begin with Jesus’s public ministry while John actually begins his account before the nativity and moves from there to Jesus’ career. Here is Luke’s account.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.(Luke 2:1-21)

There is a considerable amount of skepticism regarding the census, both on the dating and the procedure. Most skeptics regard it as extremely improbable that the Romans would make people travel here and there to register in their home towns. As a matter of fact that is just how the Romans conducted their censuses.

Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census. In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches. Should he fail to do this, his possessions would be confiscated and he would be sold into slavery.
But registration meant freedom. A master wishing to free his slave needed only to enter him in the censor’s list as a citizen (manumissio censu).
Throughout the entire republican era, registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognized. Fathers registered their sons, employers their freedmen.
Primarily the census served to count the number of citizens and to assess the potential military strength and future tax revenue. Most important, the census transformed the city into a political and military community.
But the census performed a highly symbolical function. To the Romans the census made them more than a mere crowd, or barbarian rabble. It made them a populus, a people, capable of collective action.
To the Roman the census was one of the foundation stones of their civilization.

As the Roman Empire expanded and citizenship was given out to other cities in Italy and around the Mediterranean, I would imagine that every Roman citizen had to go to his native city to register. Presumably there were lists of citizens kept in major cities and in Rome. Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen at various times in Acts and you might wonder how he was able to prove it. Well, every Roman citizen had a sort of ID or diploma which would have been issued in his city.

But with the steady extension of the citizenship by individual grants to provincials isolated in peregrine communes, and with the informal settlement of large numbers of Italian immigrants in the provincial territories, a more effective means of registration became necessary. Formal documentation of the grant of citizenship to provincial soldiery appears first in 89 B.C., in the shape of a bronze tablet recording the decree of a proconsul enfranchising a unit of Spanish cavalrymen in the Social War, who are all named in a general list. Presumably each soldier received a copy. The cities of persons of higher status enfranchised by Octavian in c. 40 B.C. received a copy of a decree detailing all the privileges of their new status, while his auxiliary veterans could acquire copies of the enabling edict that enfranchised them. But it is only with the regularization of the grant of citizenship to the all time-expired auxiliaries by Claudius that a standardized document appears. This is the small bronze diptych known as the diploma civitatis, containing a brief and uniform formula conferring the Roman citizenship on the holder and his descendants, who is indicated by his name and military unit. These documents were not normally used for civilians, who received instead a copy in libellus form of the brief imperial warrant authorizing the registration of their enfranchisement in the archives at Rome.

Diplomata and libelli provided for new citizens. For the mass of the citizenry, for whom censorial registration at five-yearly intervals was an inefficient instrument, adequate provision was finally made by the creation of an official system of compulsory birth registration under the social legislation of Augustus (A.D. 4)… The Roman citizen was required to register the birth of his children within thirty days before a Roman official, and he received a wooden diptych recording the declaration, which acted as a certificate of citizenship for the child for the rest of his life. Like the military diplomata this contained the names of seven witnesses, and provided a presumptive proof of citizen status… Similarly the enfranchisement of freedmen, which depended upon a formal act, was recorded in a documentary tabella manumissionis. Citizens of diverse origins thus came to have some form of documentary evidence of their status.

Presumably Paul registered at Tarsus while he lived there. To get back to the census, obviously, Joseph wasn’t a Roman citizen and Judea was under the rule of Herod, not the Romans. The census could have been a small time affair, the mention of Caesar Augustus being either an exaggeration or a long-standing policy of Augustus to encourage the provinces to conduct censuses, but conducted according to Roman norms, with every resident registering in his home town. You must not imagine, however, large crowds of people traveling to and fro. Remember that in this time most people would have lived their whole lives in the same village. Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been very much an exception. The only thing really odd about this account was his taking Mary with him. There would have been no need for her to travel. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much.

 

Halloween

October 31, 2015
Jack-o-lantern

Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit:

The name “Halloween” is actually derived from “All Hallow’s Eve“, that is the day before “All Hallow’s Day” or All Saint’s Day. All Saint’s Day was and is a Christian, primarily Roman Catholic, holy day which celebrates all the saints in Heaven and includes prayers for those in Purgatory.

Halloween, however, is not a Christian holiday. It seems to have come from the Celtic festival of Samhain, which was a summer’s end or harvest festival. The Celts celebrated Samhain with bonfires to ward off evil spirits and sacrificed animals and sometimes humans to their gods. This pagan heritage has made Halloween controversial among Christians at times. The Protestant Reformers in England did not like the holiday and tried to suppress it because of its pagan and Roman Catholic origins. The Scots were more lenient and Halloween is celebrated there more than in England. The Irish, of course, still celebrated it as they remained Catholic and true to their Celtic Heritage. Halloween was not much celebrated in America until large numbers of Scots and Irish immigrated here during the nineteenth century.

As for the customs which have grown up around Halloween, it would seem that carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns is an American innovation. The Scots and Irish used turnips. Pumpkins, which are native to North American, turned out to be larger and easier to carve. Trick or treating seems to be derived from the Scottish custom of guising. Guising is the custom in which children would go from door to door in costume begging for treats and performing a trick or song in return. This custom was first noted in America in the early twentieth century. Trick or treating became the custom by the 1930’s. Haunted houses have also become popular since the 1970’s.

So, Happy Halloween, or Samhain.


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