Neil Rieck
Kitchener - Waterloo - Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.
Hi-tech Community of Laptops and Lederhosen (Leather Pants)
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Current Items of Interest
  1. Help stop internet madness. When visiting an online newspaper or magazine, practice self restraint by not clicking on CLICK BAIT (e.g. what your favorite 1980's actress looks like now). It's only crud to increase the number of visitors looking at related adverts.
  2. The power of Useless Knowledge (er, Pure Scientific Research)
  3. On 2016-06-23 I was shocked to learn that the antics of the conservative political class (Boris Johnston, Nigel Farage and Michael Gove to only name three of many) had convinced British citizens to vote for BREXIT (Britain leaving the European Union). The next day Google trends reported that the two top search phrases from Britain where "What is the EU" and "What is BREXIT" which makes me wonder if British citizens knew what they were voting for.
    1. In a democracy, citizens elect professional representatives to government so informed decisions are made on behalf of the citizens. So why did these political professionals offer an advisory referendum to the public then later declare the results binding?
    2. Only 72.21% of eligible voters turned out; 51.89% of those voted to leave; simple math indicates that only 37.47% of the eligible voters voted to leave. This is okay for a first-past-the-post election but not for major societal transformations.
    3. I saw one stat which claimed that 3 million Brits are working abroad in EU countries. I wonder how many of these people participated in the vote.
    4. If Britain ever triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, history books will associate the names of Boris Johnston, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, as well as David Cameron, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn (The Labour Party is in a coalition with the Conservatives) with putting the final nail in the coffin of the British Empire. If Churchill were still alive I'm sure he would write a speech claiming this was not Britain's finest hour.
    5. Oops! Teresa May triggered Article 50 on 2017-03-29 but we only heard words of encouragement from David Cameron and nothing at all from opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. These are all very smart people who must already know that Britain's future relationship with the EU will be similar to that of Norway's position (which must pay a tariff for exports into the EU) so I wonder why these BREXITers continue to lie to the British people while claiming that free-trade access can be negotiated. When Scotland decides to leave the United Kingdom it is likely that Northern Ireland will be encouraged to follow. The names mentioned here will then be associated with the dissolution of the United Kingdom provided they don't keep the name around to just mean "England and Wales".
      1. when the British public begin to feel the social and economic pain associated with leaving the EU, the political careers of any pro-BREXIT politicians will be over
      2. will the Royal Family maintain the fiction of being Scottish while wearing kilts as they vacation at Balmoral Castle?
  4. America Last: Trump’s assault on environmental science is self-defeating
    A LEADER A CHILL wind of change is blowing through climate research. To nobody’s great surprise, given President Trump’s rhetoric to date, the White House is said to be ready to gut the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. According to documents seen by The Washington Post, NOAA – the federal government’s leading climate science agency – faces an overall budget cut of 17 per cent. Its basic science arm, the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, will lose more than a quarter of its funds. The money will be diverted to the military, on which the US already spends far more than any other country. Some in the Trump camp claim they are not opposed to climate science, just to the “politicised” version of it now practised by NOAA and other agencies. This is nonsense. Climate science has been politicised only by those who deny its findings in the service of an antiquated model of US enterprise – one in which success depends on corporate freedom to trash the commons.
    continued here:
  5. Standing up for Science in the USA but applies to the whole world
  6. A conservative friend of mine was fond of asking me (I am a centrist) political questions then would cut me off mid-sentence before I finished answering because he didn’t value my (just starting) response. Apparently he was the only conservative amongst his family of 2-brothers and parents but had no problem thinking he was right while they were wrong. How could this be? This thought rattled around in my mind until I stumbled across a book titled “The Republican Brain” which was positively reviewed by liberals and conservatives alike. The book contains several points which I will pass along here:
    • Size differences in two brain structures, the amygdala and the anterior cingulate, bias human perspective of the world. Therefore ...
    • Conservatives see things as “black and white” while liberals see “shades of gray”
    • Conservatives play politics as a team sport so will almost always vote their party while Liberals will split their vote choosing alternate parties (now you know how Trump got in)
    • Conservatives (larger amygdala) are more fearful of others so are more easily encouraged to vote for POPULIST issues restricting immigration by voting for Trump or BREXIT (funny point: Britain had the lowest number of Syrian immigrants but apparently the highest political reaction against them)
    • Since conservatives only see things as black and white, they try (and sometimes succeed) in converting liberals over to their way of voting
  7. NATO member countries are required to invest 2% of their GDP in military spending although this is not enforced (see: recent chart). EU member countries are required to invest 2% of their GDP in EU scientific R&D (Research & Development). I think it is safe to say that military spending shifts the emphasis from "R" to "D" but wasn't WW2 won by the countries with the smartest research scientists? Everyone knows that creation is more difficult than destruction but it is worth the effort. Perhaps humanity's future would be better off if half the money currently used for all military spending was diverted to scientific research.
  8. Kids growing up in the 1950s were presented with a cowboy metaphor where the Americans were white-hat good guys while the Russians and Chinese were black-hat bad guys. Since then I have come to the realization that many countries wear gray hats. For example, The Pentagon just admitted using depleted uranium in American ground attacks on Syria and Iraq. From atom-bombs in Japan to  agent-orange  in Vietnam to depleted Uranium in the middle east, it seems to me that the actions of the American military (and the politicians which authorize such activity) stand as proof that Americans are loosing their humanity.
  9. Have you ever noticed that when you present people with facts that are contrary to their deepest held beliefs they always change their minds? No, me neither. In fact, people seem to double down on their beliefs in the teeth of overwhelming evidence against them. The reason is related to the worldview perceived to be under threat by the conflicting data. Creationists, for example, dispute the evidence for evolution in fossils and DNA because they are concerned about secular forces encroaching on religious faith. Anti-vaxxers distrust big pharma and think that money corrupts medicine, which leads them to believe that vaccines cause autism despite the inconvenient truth that the one and only study claiming such a link was retracted and its lead author accused of fraud. The 9/11 truthers focus on minutiae like the melting point of steel in the World Trade Center buildings that caused their collapse because they think the government lies and conducts “false flag” operations to create a New World Order. Climate deniers study tree rings, ice cores and the PPM of greenhouse gases because they are passionate about freedom, especially that of markets and industries to operate unencumbered by restrictive government regulations. Obama birthers desperately dissected the president’s long-form birth certificate in search of fraud because they believe that the nation’s first African-American president is a socialist bent on destroying the country. Click here to read more.
  10. A cult of ignorance in the USAIf you are trying to make sense of" populism and the rise of fake news" (people only receiving news from social media) or why "Brits voted BREXIT" or "Americans voted Trump" then consider the following quote by Isaac Asimov which was published by Newsweek (21 January 1980):

    "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

    p.s. this quote now applies to most western countries including Britain, Australia, and Canada to only name three of many. I wonder if anyone has studied the relationship between populism and internet access.
  11. Rebuttal to "The Global Warming Hoax: Lord Monckton & Stefan Molyneux"
    question: why are some people more comfortable with conspiracy theories than simple science?
  12. StarTalk RadioScience, pop culture & comedy collide on StarTalk with astrophysicist & Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson, comic co-hosts, celebrities & scientists.
  13. I have recently been experimenting with Linux on Itanium (an HP Integrity rx2660) and Linux on x86-64 (an HP ProLiant ML370 and an HP ProLiant DL-385)
  14. Charles Darwin Online ( )
  15. Carl Sagan on Global Warming (Cosmos Update - 1990)
    quote: For our own world the peril is more subtle.  Since this series was first broadcast the dangers of the increasing greenhouse effect have become much more clear.  We burn fossil fuels like coal and gas and petroleum putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and thereby heating the Earth.  The hellish conditions on Venus are a reminder that this is serious business. Computer models that successfully explain the climates of other planets predict the deaths of forests, parched croplands, the flooding of coastal cities, the environmental refugees, widespread disasters in the next century unless we change our ways. What do we have to do? Four things ...
  16. Anti-Vaxxers, Conspiracy Theories & Epistemic Responsibility: Crash Course Philosophy #14
    Includes the work of W. K. Clifford who stated things like this:
    • "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything based upon insufficient evidence."
    • "If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call in question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it — the life of that man is one long sin against mankind."
  17. A few neat quotes from Winston Churchill which are at odds with stuff I hear when passing by talk-radio programs
    • A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject
    • A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
    • The independence of the courts is, to all of us, the guarantee of freedom and the equal rule of law... It must, therefore, be the first concern of the citizens of a free country to preserve and maintain the independence of the courts of justice, however inconvenient that independence may be, on occasion, to the government of the day.
    • On August 17, 1949, on the occasion of the first session of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, Sir Winston Churchill expressed the wish that once an agreement on Fundamental Human Rights was achieved on a European level, it would be possible to create an International (European) Court before which any violation of such rights might be submitted for judgment by the civilized world.
  18. I am currently reading two thought-provoking books which I recommend to people interested in physics and/or electronics (specifically RF theory). They are titled  Concerning the Discovery of the Æther (2015) and Æther Drift (2016). They currently cost $10 each at Amazon and I guarantee that the science nerds in your family will get more than $20 worth of enjoyment from them. In the 2016 book the author details his own experimental apparatus called The Granville Interferometer which is meant to follow up on the famously failed Michelson and Morley experiment.
  19. I just read an interesting article in Skeptic (vol 21, no 1, 2016) about the book Ruins of Empire (The Ruins, or Meditation on the Revolutions of Empires) written by Constantin-François Volney (1757-1820) and secretly translated into English by Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) in 1799.

    Quote (article): What would Volney say about the upsurge in violent religious extremism today? The answer is clear: Across the planet, an entire generation of young men and women are being convinced to give up the one thing that exists for sure - their own lives -- for something that had never been proven to exist -- the Afterlife. 

    Comment: Life this side of Y2K seems to be dominated with religious extremism; just the sort of thing Volney warned about 200 years ago. This reminded me of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire written by Edward Gibbon (1723–1792)
  20. Discovery of Motion (2007) John Granville. 533 pages.

    Comment: I have often lamented the passing of great explainers like Isaac Asimov while wondering "where are their replacements?". John Granville is one such candidate and I find his writing style the correct mix of "meat and potatoes" (a phrase from one of my early instructors who likened consuming information with consuming food; "too much meat" required a lot of work with limited enjoyment while "too many potatoes" went down easier but offered incomplete sustenance). Like Asimov, Granville includes a lot of supporting material and is not shy about publishing mathematical equations which you can skip over if you desire. Chapter 32 is titled "Speed of Light and the Æther Drift Paradox" describes experiments employed to "measure the speed of light" before the age of electronics. If you don't find these amazing then you have no sense of curiosity. Read more...
  21. Nuclear Fusion
    1. Fusion research is typically based on tokamak (easy to build; hard to control) or stellarator (harder to build; easier to control)
    2. First proposed by Lyman Spitzer in 1950, the stellarator was meant simulate conditions found in stars.
    3. German universities began work in the mid 1980s on a device named the Wendelstein 7-AS (Advanced Stellarator)
    4. Advances in computer technology in the early 2000s allowed them to develop computer models of how the plasma should flow. This allowed them to refine their design further until they began building the Wendelstein 7-X in 2005 which concluded in 2014
    5. recent news:
  22. Andrew Dressler (Texas A&M) on Satellite Temperature Measurement Errors
    Is it really a matter of "models vs. data" as some claim, or is is more an example of "models vs. models" because raw satellite data must first be run through a model-derived algorithm in order to infer the temperature.
    Now read this:
    Then this:
  23. While recently reading a book about Erwin Schrödinger I stumbled across this paragraph about the German philosopher Schopenhauer which (I thought) might help to explain the actions of modern-day ideologues (both political and religious).
    quote: In The World as Will and Representation and other works, Schopenhauer offered an explanation for the driving force of emotions that can lead to calamity. Drawing from the Hindu notion of karma and the Buddhist concept of suffering, he described how "will" is a universal force that compels people to carry out tasks. It is the desire that generates the action that brings out the inevitable. Just like other natural forces, it leads to predictable outcomes. However, the agents experiencing such compulsion fully believe it is their own volition producing the results. Neurotically, they can become immersed in their own longings, constantly unfilled, because whenever a goal is reached, a new desire bubbles up.

    Comment: if new desires are acted upon, this would be and example of an unattenuated feedback loop. Could this be the source of extremism? Perhaps.
  24. Facts, Theory, Hypothesis, Law: Explained!
    1. Facts are observations
      • the Sun rises in the morning then sets in the evening
    2. Hypothesis is a proposed explanation
      1. the Sun moves around the Earth (jump to step 3a)
      2. the Earth moves around the Sun (jump to step 3b)
    3. Theory is a tested Hypothesis
      1. test of hypothesis 2a...
        • passes (until the era of precision measurements) so jump to step 4 to build models (mathematical, mechanical, computer-based)
        • fails during the era of precision measurements (Tycho Brahe) so go back to step 2 to develop hypothesis 2b
      2. test of hypothesis 2b passes (we have a theoretical understanding of the issue) so jump to step 4
    4. Law is a detailed mathematical description
      • develop a model to test the hypothesis with greater precision (early physical models were machines; modern models employ computers)
      • a successful theory produces yet-unobserved predictions (eg. Atomic Theory, Theory of Gravitation)
      • improved observations (new facts) through newer instrumentation may force us back to step 2 (eg. General Relativity)
  25. The latest issue of Skeptic Magazine ( ) contains a story about a contest Alfred Russel Wallace entered in 1870 to prove the Earth was round. (see: for a less detailed version of the story)

    Every citizen today should read this story paying special attention to the reactions of his opponent, John Hampden, who believed data from Wallace’s experiment proved the Earth was flat. Wallace was declared the winner and so won 500 pounds but lost it all in court costs when Hampden would not stop personal attacks while refusing to acknowledge the evidence. Why would the courts allow this? Remember that this occurred in Victorian England at a time where many respectable people were séance-attending spiritualists. I find it difficult to understand that this could happen in the country of Newton approximately 150 years after his death. The point I am trying to make is this: today’s climate change deniers claim to be on the side of Galileo but they are really Flat Earthers
  26. Scientific Consensus and Arguments from Authority:
  27. Science under Siege is a three part radio program aired on CBC Radio's Ideas with Paul Kennedy (this should be required learning for all citizens in the western world; it applies to Americans as well as Canadians). Here are the mp3 downloads:
    while science does not appear to be under siege in mother Britain, the story is much different out in the colonies (America, Canada, and Australia). While I am not certain of the reasons, this chart may shed some light on the situation
  28. Science is an endless search for truth. Any representation of reality we develop can be only partial. There is no finality, sometimes no single best representation. There is only deeper understanding, more revealing and enveloping representations. Scientific advance, then, is a succession of newer representations superseding older ones, either because an older one has run its course and is no longer a reliable guide for a field or because the newer one is more powerful, encompassing, and productive than its predecessors - Carl R. Woese (full text here)
  29. What are the  Blue Zones  ?
  30. A.I. has been shifting from an "engineering discipline" ("expert systems" was their most visible practical success before IBM's Watson) to a "cognitive science" discipline for a while now. This shift has forced researchers to view the human mind from a different perspective. One proposal by Daniel Kahneman separates the human mind into two abstractly labeled modules colloquially referred to as system-1 and system-2 (or S1 and S2). S1 is a high-speed parallel processor evolved for avoiding predation by lions but also handles wrote intelligence (what is "2 plus 2"?) while S2 is a serial processor which deals with higher level procedural intelligence (what is "19 times 21"?).
    S2 requires more energy and concentration (not something you want to be doing while being chased by a lion) so idles until activated by S1.
    Notes for examples below:
    • Example 1: "S1 immediately engages S2 but fails to pass accurate information to S2 (causing S2 to make an error)"
    • Examples 2-5: "S1 will answer incorrectly without ever engaging S2"
    • Example 6: "S1 immediately engages S2; S2 employs a little algebra to compute the answer then notifies S1; S1 doesn't believe S2 so requests S2 to double-check; S2 repeats the solution then notifies S1; S1 still doesn't believe S2 so requests S2 to perform a detailed rationalization of where S1 had gone wrong"

    1. algebra with fruitThis graphical algebra problem employs picture symbols rather than x, y and z. Calculate the answer.
      (hover your mouse here to reveal the answer)
    2. "All flowers need water. All roses need water. Therefore, all roses are flowers". Is this logically true?
      (hover your mouse here to reveal the answer)
    3. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
      (hover your mouse here to reveal the answer)
    4. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?
      (hover your mouse here to reveal the answer)
    5. A patch of lily pads are found in a lake. Every day the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of it?
      (hover your mouse here to reveal the answer)
    6. Three people check into a hotel room. The clerk says the bill is $30, so each guest pays $10. Later the clerk realizes the bill should only be $25. To rectify this, he gives the bellhop $5 to return to the guests. On the way to the room, the bellhop realizes that he cannot divide the money equally. As the guests didn't know the total of the revised bill, the bellhop decides to just give each guest $1 and keep $2 as a tip for himself. Each guest got $1 back: so now each guest only paid $9; bringing the total paid to $27. The bellhop has $2. And $27 + $2 = $29 so, if the guests originally handed over $30, what happened to the remaining $1?
      (hover your mouse here to reveal the answer)
  31. Science is a way of thinking by Carl Sagan
    • (clip - 2:33)
    • (full - 20:27)
    • Food for thought: I recently stumbled across this quote
      "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people."

      Admiral Hyman G. Rickover

      which, I think, can be applied to everything from religion to Hollywood pop culture. It got me thinking about sectarian conflicts brewing throughout the world where just attempting to engage in an open minded discussion about religion can get you charged with apostasy then put to death. But the west is no better. I just learned that the funding of the National Science Foundation is ten times smaller than the tax breaks given to religion in the USA
  32. Baruch Spinoza was a 17th century Dutch Jewish philosopher (1632-1677). He was known for his radical views on religion and politics. As a young man, he was banned by his own religious community for his scandalous ideas. He made his living by grinding precision lens for scientists. He died young, at the age of 44, presumably from inhaling glass dust. Spinoza did not believe that God created the heavens and earth - the universe.  For Spinoza, God was equivalent to all of nature. He believed that "false religion" created superstition.  A "true religion," on the other hand, was liberating because it allowed freedom of thought. The Europe of 17th century was a place  of stifling religious orthodoxies, strife and war. Spinoza believed in freedom of thought and the principle of religious tolerance. Spinoza also had radical ideas about the nature of politics. He believed in democracy. He is credited with helping to shape the revolution in human thought known as The Enlightenment.
    CBC IDEAS host Paul Kennedy explores how Spinoza's thoughts on God, the universe, ethics and politics helped ignite the flame what became known as the Enlightenment. Audio: 53:59
  33. Enlightenment: Science in Sonnet Form (a 90 second inspirational video)
    That knowledge, once a gem which few did see,
    in ignorant mystery lay neglected,
    'till hard won by thoughtful curiosity,
    and reasoned methodology perfected.

    Then, each new discovered jewel did catch the light,
    Illuminating treasures in cascade,
    and from each shinning fragment polished bright,
    a glittering crown of knowledge we have made.

    A crown for all to wear, that brings its bearer all;
    astronaut-astronomer, conqueror of disease,
    monarch of the quantum realm and more,
    tireless swimmer of genetic seas.

    Yet, after all these glories we have won,
    doubt not that still, the best is yet to come.
  34. chloroplastThe computed World Human Population Limit
    Simple math proves the current human population is already too large at 7.4 billion (perhaps 4.42 billion is the optimum number?). Anything higher (humanity adds 1 billion every 12 years) is certainly out of the question. Why?

    Higher temperatures reduce the efficiency of photosynthesis resulting in a loss of agricultural productivity (biologists estimate a 10% drop for every degree increase). This is a shift in the direction of famine, disease (due to compromised immune systems), war (due to food and water shortages), and death. Since photosynthesis is required to replenish atmospheric O2 (oxygen), then we can expect O2 to drop as well. So I guess it should be no surprise that...

    Atmospheric oxygen levels have been dropping ever since measurements began in 1990. While CCS (carbon capture and storage) technologies promise to limit some CO2 releases, any burning of fuel will continue to consume atmospheric oxygen. So when calculating the optimum human population we also need to include the number of large internal combustion engines. (for now, just think about the number of ocean-going boats, jet airplanes, locomotive engines, and one billion functional automobiles). Now for one additional thought...

    Many people mistakenly believe higher CO2 levels "are good for plants" and "will trigger plant growth" (some people call CO2 the gas of life). First off, atmospheric CO2 levels have risen from 315 to 395 ppm (an increase of 25.3%) ever since direct annual measurement began in 1958 but humanity has not noticed any explosion of plant life to compensate for the increase (if we did, we might not have seen an increase in CO2 levels). Secondly, this schematic diagram of photosynthesis shows the first stage involves the photolysis of water by sunlight (this is the only place where oxygen is released to the atmosphere). This diagram is proof that sunlight (input 1) and H2O (input 2) are more important than CO2 (input 3) but each ingredient is considered a limiting factor to maximum photosynthetic productivity (it goes without saying that there is no release of oxygen on short days, cloudy days, or at night). The majority of plant life acquires water through roots rather than the atmosphere. Higher temperatures will evaporate a greater volume of water into the atmosphere making it bio-unavailable to plants. While more evaporation usually translates into more rain fall, higher temperatures will send it back into the atmosphere sooner.
  35. Near Earth Objects (comets and asteroids) are a clear and present danger to all human culture as well as Earth's current biosphere.
    1. If dinosaurs had developed technology then they could have protected themselves from the asteroid strike associated with Chicxulub Crater on the coast of Yucatan, Mexico.
    2. Humanity has developed the necessary technology but political-ideological pressures have neutered NASA's ability to proceed beyond primitive NEO detection.
    3. Developing and implementing planetary protection technology just may be an evolutionarily survival prerequisite (so Tea Party thinking will doom us all). Think of this as a protective immune system for the whole planet.
    4. NASA NEO links
    5. Mark your calendars for February 15, 2013 when Asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass under the orbit of Earth's geosynchronous satellites.
      • (NASA video)
      • It is expected to pass over Indonesia at 14:30 EST
      • If it were to impact the Earth (but it will not), the estimated energy release would be 3.5 megatons tons of TNT (220 times bigger than the Little Boy bomb dropped on Japan at the end of WW2)
      While this rock is only 50 m (~150 ft) wide, remember that similarly sized rocks were responsible for:
      1. the 1908 Tunguska Event in Russia
      2. as well as Meteor Crater approximately 43 miles (69 km) east of Flagstaff, Arizona.
    6. Oops, on the morning of February 15, 2013 while we were waiting for the approach of 2012 DA14, an asteroid approximately 15m in size became an air-bursting meteor in an event now known as 2013 Russian meteor event. More than 1,200 people were injured by shock waves to buildings.
    7. quote: Arthur C. Clarke coined the term in his novel Rendezvous with Rama where SPACEGUARD was the name of an early warning system created following a catastrophic asteroid impact.
    8. B612 Foundation (who are looking for private donations so they can launch their own NEO monitoring satellite)
    9. Near Earth Objects and Planetary Defense documentary videos
  36. Attention Computer Technologists: George Dyson just published a book titled Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe which appears to be a must-own gem.
  37. Isaac Asimov on PBS
    Isaac Asimov PhD
    "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

    -- Isaac Asimov (Column in Newsweek, 21 January 1980)

    Excerpt from Wikipedia: Isaac Asimov was an atheist, a humanist, and a rationalist. He did not oppose religious conviction in others, but he frequently railed against superstitious and pseudoscientific beliefs that tried to pass themselves off as genuine science. During his childhood, his father and mother observed Orthodox Jewish traditions, though not as stringently as they had in Petrovichi, Russia; they did not, however, force their beliefs upon young Isaac. Thus he grew up without strong religious influences, coming to believe that the Torah represented Hebrew mythology in the same way that the Iliad recorded Greek mythology

    NSR Comment: read more Asimovian quotes here
  38. Carl Sagan
    Carl Sagan PhD
    (Astronomy and
    "We have designed a civilization based on science and technology and at the same time have arranged things so that almost no one understands anything at all about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster. We may, for a while, get away with this mix of ignorance and power but sooner or later it is bound to blow up in our face."

    -- Carl Sagan

    "Science is a way of thinking"

    -- Carl Sagan

    "An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof"

    -- Carl Sagan

    NSR Comment: this last quote also applies to religious assertions so maybe fundamentalists need to calm down a bit.
  39. Arthur C ClarkeIn 1974 Arthur C. Clarke told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that every household in 2001 will have a computer and be connected all over the world

    (sounds like the internet to me)
  40. Today it appears that religious, political, and economic extremists are actively cultivating ignorance.

    For this reason, I hope the following 7-minute video will help end the madness.
    This video is based upon Isaac Asimov's rebuttal to a letter he received from an "English literature" student who was critical of science and progress. The original letter can be found here

    --- xxx ---

    While on this topic, here is an essay titled The “Threat” of Creationism published in the 1984 book Science and Creationism. Quote: Scientists thought it was settled. The universe, they had decided, is about 20 billion years old (now refined to be 13.7), and Earth itself is 4.5 billion years old. Simple forms of life came into being more than three billion years ago, having formed spontaneously from nonliving matter. They grew more complex through slow evolutionary processes and the first hominid ancestors of humanity appeared more than four million years ago. Homo sapiens itself—the present human species, people like you and me—have walked the earth for at least 50,000 years. But apparently it isn't settled. There are Americans who believe that the earth is only about 6,000 years old; that human beings and all other species were brought into existence by a divine Creator as eternally separate variations of beings; and that there has been no evolutionary process.
  41. Two world-views for modern humans:
    1. faith-based
      • Dictionary definition of Faith: belief that is not based on proof
      • Dictionary definitions of Sectarian:
        1. narrowly confined or devoted to a particular sect.
        2. a bigoted or narrow-minded adherent of a sect.
      • Dictionary definition of Theocracy: a system of government by priests claiming a divine commission.
      • Question(s):
        1. Does it make any sense to kill in the name of religion (sectarian violence)?
        2. Does it make any sense to organize government around religion? You might be okay with this as long as YOUR SECT in in charge, but how will you feel when a different sect legally supplants yours? Perhaps it is better for all if we keep our religious practices private and personal.
    2. evidence-based
      • Dictionary definition of Evidence: that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof.
      • Dictionary definition of Secular: of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred.
        comment: If sectarian is "narrowly confined or bigoted" then secular is "more broadly encompassing and flexible"

    More food for thought:
    1. Quote: "Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army" -- Edward Everett (1794 - 1865)
    2. European Enlightenment (1650-1800)
    3. American Enlightenment (1715–1789)
    4. Baruch Spinoza a.k.a. Benedict de Spinoza (24 November 1632 – 21 February 1677) was a Jewish-Dutch philosopher. Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death. By laying the groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, he came to be considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy. His magnum opus, the posthumous Ethics, in which he opposed Descartes's mind–body dualism, has earned him recognition as one of Western philosophy's most important contributors. In the Ethics, "Spinoza wrote the last indisputable Latin masterpiece, and one in which the refined conceptions of medieval philosophy are finally turned against themselves and destroyed entirely." Philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said of all contemporary philosophers, "You are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all."
    5. Age of Reason (1650-present)
    6. If you value The Enlightenment as much as I do then you might enjoy this new book titled "Enlightenment 2.0"
  42. Superstition: A belief, not based on human reason or scientific knowledge, that future events may be influenced by one's behavior in some magical or mystical way (Wiktionary). In 1947, the psychologist B. F. Skinner reported a series of experiments in which pigeons could push a lever that would randomly either give them a food pellet, or nothing. Think of it as a sort of one-armed bandit that the pigeons played for free. Skinner found, after a while, that some of the pigeons started acting oddly before pushing the lever. One moved in counterclockwise circles, one repeatedly stuck its head into the upper corner of the cage, and two others would swing their heads back and forth in a sort of pendulum motion. He suggested that the birds had developed "superstitious behaviors" by associating "getting the food" with something they happened to be doing when they actually got it -- and they had wrongly concluded that if they did it again, they were more likely to get the pellet. Essentially, they were doing a sort of food-pellet dance to better their odds. This has got to be one explanation for human behavior in the 21st century.
  43. Microsoft's Project Tuva - a multimedia homage to the lectures of Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman. For example, check out Video Lecture 1: The Messenger Lecture Series: The Law of Gravitation (55 minute BBC video from Cornell in 1964)
  44. In 1873, while investigating infrared radiation and the element thallium, the eminent Victorian experimenter Sir William Crookes developed a special kind of radiometer, an instrument for measuring radiant energy of heat and light. Crookes's Radiometer is today marketed as a conversation piece called a light-mill or solar engine. It consists of four vanes each of which is blackened on one side and silvered on the other. These are attached to the arms of a rotor which is balanced on a vertical support in such a way that it can turn with very little friction. The mechanism is encased inside a clear glass bulb which has been pumped out to a high, but not perfect, vacuum.
    • When sunlight falls on the light-mill, the vanes turn with the black surfaces apparently being pushed away by the light. But there is a problem with this explanation. Light falling on the black side should be absorbed, while light falling on the silver side of the vanes should be reflected. In that case the mill is turning the wrong way.
    • In 1901, with a better vacuum pump, Pyotr Lebedev showed that the radiometer only works when there is low pressure gas in the bulb but the vanes stay motionless in a hard vacuum. This is proof that the thermal properties of the low pressure gas are responsible for the motion, not the direct action of photons. Climate-Warming Food-for-thought: too much gas traps too much heat causing the machine to stop working.
    • The radiometer can also be made to rotate backwards in a refrigerator.
    • Other mistaken explanations for the radiometer: Since the black side of each vane would absorb heat from infrared radiation more than the silver side, then this would cause the rarefied gas to be heated on the black side.  In that case, the obvious explanation is that the pressure of the gas on the darker side increases with its temperature, creating a higher force on the dark side of the vane which thus pushes the rotor around.  Maxwell analyzed this theory carefully and discovered that, in fact, the warmer gas would simply expand in such a way that there would be no net force from this effect, just a steady flow of heat across the vanes.  So this explanation in terms of warm gas is wrong, but even the Encyclopedia Britannica gives this false explanation today.  A variation on this theme is that the motion of the hot molecules on the black side of the vane provide the push.  Again this is not correct, and could only work if the mean free path between molecular collisions were as large as the container, instead of its actual value of typically less than a millimeter.
    • The correct solution to the problem was provided qualitatively by Osborne Reynolds in 1879 in a paper to the Royal Society in which he considered what he called "thermal transpiration". To explain the radiometer, therefore, one must focus attention not on the faces of the vanes, but on their edges.  The faster molecules from the warmer side strike the edges obliquely and impart a higher force than the colder molecules.  Again, these are the same thermo-molecular forces responsible for Reynolds' thermal transpiration.  The effect is also known as thermal creep, since it causes gases to creep along a surface that has a temperature gradient.  The net movement of the vane due to the tangential forces around the edges is away from the warmer gas and towards the cooler gas, with the gas passing around the edge in the opposite direction.  The behavior is just as if there were a greater force on the blackened side of the vane (which as Maxwell showed is not the case); but the explanation must be in terms of what happens not at the faces of the vanes, but near their edges.
  45. Isaac Asimov PhD
    Dr. Isaac Asimov
    Isaac Asimov = Hari Seldon?
    Back in 2004, Isaac Asimov (already dead for 12 years) sent all of humanity a message from 1988. Does this remind you of the posthumous messages sent by Hari Seldon to all of humanity? Click here for more information.
    p.s. this has nothing to do with the occult (nothing at this web site does)
  46. First a little Star Wars movie history. The first three movies (SW1-3 :: 1977-1983 :: EP4-6) are about episodes 4-6. The second three movies (SW4-SW6 :: 1999-2005 :: EP1-3) are about episodes 1-3. In my world sci-fi fans are split down the middle: some prefer the first three movies while others prefer the second three. There is no right or wrong here it's just a matter of preference (eg. some people hate Jar Jar Binks while others hate the Ewoks; some loved watching Yoda training Luke on Dagobah while others like me preferred the martial arts of Darth Maul; some thought the first three were targeted at children while others thought the politics of the second three made them more appropriate for adults). SW7 (2015) follows the story SW3 (1983) and was co-written with Lawrence Kasdan (also co-wrote SW2 + SW3) so I suspect that half the audience will love it.

    comment: Okay so I just saw the film in 3D and can tell you all that SW7 is better than any of the first three movies (1977-1983) but not better than any of the second three (1999-2005). I have no idea why people where watching it multiple times when it opened.
  47. I am surprised by the quality of fan-created Star Trek episodes (alphabetically):
  48. Folding@Home and BOINC. Learn how YOU can utilize spare resources on YOUR computer to cure human diseases by helping scientists discover how protein molecules fold and misfold. Isaac Asimov would have loved this.
  49. Guaranteed Human Life Extension - quantity as well as quality. This is not a joke or scam but it will cost you $6.00 per month and you must act now.
  50. My Book Recommendations to promote STEM
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
A mysterious monolith awakens the imagination of humanity's distant ancestors;
A second one awaits humanity's giant leap to the moon;
And in orbit around Jupiter, a third beckons humanity to transcend beyond the limits of of body and machine.
Click: 2001: A Space Odyssey @ Wikipedia

Feynman Diagram (animated) Feynman Diagram (static)
"All forces in the universe are mediated by particle exchange"
This "Feynman Diagram" (of electron repulsion) depicts the movement of two electrons (1 to 3 and 2 to 4) in space and time.
A virtual photon transfers energy between them (5 to 6) causing them to repel each other.
To learn more:
1) brief explanation
2) detailed explanation
Legend: Y-Axis (up-down) is time while X-Axis (left-right) is space

Visit the Dilbert Zone... Dilbert Zone:

Personal e-mail: Neil Rieck

Spirits In The Material World

There is no political solution
To our troubled evolution
Have no faith in constitution
There is no bloody revolution

We are spirits in the material world

Our so-called leaders speak
With words they try to jail you
They subjugate the meek
But it's the rhetoric of failure

We are spirits in the material world

Where does the answer lie?
Living from day to day
If it's something we can't buy
There must be another way

We are spirits in the material world

The Police (Ghosts in the Machine)