Category Archives: Science

Who’s Counting?

From Worldometer.com

I’ve been following the inexorable path of this pandemic since the very beginning, primarily through Worldometer’s website located here. In early 2020, I was paying really close attention as the casualties mounted. I was recording the figures into a spreadsheet and plotting a graph of how deaths and infections were growing.

Sometime toward the end of the Summer I gave up; I had other things to do and the pandemic seemed to be waning. That was just before the Fall and Winter spike really ran up the numbers. Even then I didn’t return to recording and plotting. I decided to leave that to others as I was merely replicating what several organizations were already doing, and my desire to be able to pore over the data wasn’t enough to justify the time it would have taken.

On December 29, 2020 I tested positive for Covid-19 and spent the next ten days both quarantined in my bedroom and miserable with the virus. I came close to going to the hospital but, thankfully, it didn’t happen and I recovered. I am now fully vaccinated (Team Moderna) and have fully recovered, with the exception of a couple of “long-haul” symptoms: occasional fatigue; loss of smell (it returns intermittently); some brain fog … which is maddening but seems to be subsiding with time.

Through this time, I’ve continued to monitor the ebb and flow of this virus and its movement through the country. One thing that’s always struck me as odd is how the numbers really go down on the weekends. I’m pretty sure this is more an artifact of reporting, e.g. how many admin staff are home for the weekend, etc., but if you look at the graph (above) you can see a consistent drop in reported cases and deaths each and every weekend.

It’s almost as if the Grim Reaper doesn’t exactly take the day off, but certainly puts the brakes on every Saturday and Sunday. Maybe people are so accustomed to relaxing on the weekend that even the gravely ill manage to hang on through those days just out of habit. I know that being calm and taking care of business played a significant role in my recover. I was “lucky” in that I have dealt with lung issues most of my life, so I was closely attuned to what was happening to me and was able to relax and allow my body’s natural defenses to take over.

As the above graph clearly shows, we’re on the way down again, but I’m somewhat apprehensive that we’re going to see another spike as the weather cools down and people start spending more time indoors. I hope I’m wrong, but history seems to want to tell a different story than we’d all prefer was the case.


Windmills

Jordan Spieth at the 149th playing of the British Open

I watched the last two rounds of The British Open at Royal St. George last month. One one particular hole there was a large bank of wind turbines visible in the background. I thought of how some people complain that wind turbines are a blight; that looking at them is disturbing, in-artful, etc. However, knowing they are contributing to the long-term habitability of our planet, I’m fine with it. In fact, it’s beautiful. It’s reminiscent of how I, and many artists, envisioned the worlds of science fiction.

An Artist’s conception of a space habitat

While much of the artwork to be found in science fiction can be pretty dystopian, there are also a lot of concepts that are truly beautiful and evoke human capabilities far beyond those we’re able to employ nowadays. This is especially true of artwork depicting habitats built to exist in space. Like the art depicted above, these habitats are invariably curved, since a “station” that slowly rotates around a central axis will create a gravitational simulation that should suit the human body as much as “real” gravity on our home planet.

At least, that’s what I think would happen. Nobody’s done it yet, though I believe the science is pretty sound. It’s conceivable to me this future awaits us; surely not in my lifetime, but within the next hundred or so years. That being the case, I find it easy to put up with a bank of windmills off in the distance. The reality is, if we’re ever going to be a space-faring world—I mean really able to move off the planet—we first have to ensure Earth remains reasonably habitable … and we don’t seem to be doing a very good job of that right now. More about that later.


We’re Entitled To Defend Ourselves

I have, in the past, asked when it would be time to consider acting out against polluters, climate change deniers and, especially, so-called governmental leaders as acts of self-defense. After all, increasingly severe weather events are killing large groups of people who currently have no say in how we deal with the climate crisis, which I believe is very real and abundantly documented.

So I’ve wondered just how long we’re going to sit back and allow our leaders and businesses to ignore what is patently obvious, ensuring more and more of us will be sickened, impoverished, and killed because of their greed and intransigence.

You might want to take 10 minutes of your time and listen to what Chris has to say here. It seems to me we have only about three paths to implement the changes that are necessary. Massive participation in the electoral process to fundamentally change our leadership, massive civil disobedience to disrupt the status quo, or massive violence to overthrow the government and install new leadership. I would prefer one of the first two (and, like Chris, I’m fairly convinced the second of the two has the best chance of making real, fundamental, transformative change) but I’m not opposed to the latter on ethical grounds. I do, however, think violence will end up hurting those who are the most susceptible to oppression and suppression and, therefore, am not terribly sanguine about such a direction.

I’m thinking this is something that will deeply impact all of use far sooner than we’ve been led to believe, and action is imperative. What do you think?


Perseverance Arrives!

A Blue Martian Sunset

I was raised in the San Fernando Valley. Sputnik 1 was launched exactly four months after my 10th birthday. I remember lying outside on our front lawn, watching it go over. It was exciting and mysterious at the same time. I have a vague memory of seeing the United States’ first satellite, Exlorer, go over and I have a real vivid memory of seeing Echo as it orbited our planet. Echo was a giant aluminum balloon that, when inflated in orbit, was 100 feet in diameter and reflected the Sun, making it the brightest object in the sky except for the Moon.

I also have vivid memories of rocket engine tests in the Santa Susana mountains, just slight northwest of where I lived. Many of the tests were conducted at night, and I could see the sky light up over those mountains. As I grew up, I had friends whose parents worked at Rocketdyne, the company that built just about every liquid-fueled rocket engine used to power America’s space program, including Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, not to mention the Space Shuttle.

Little did I know that many years later I would, quite serendipitously, get sent on a temporary assignment to work at Rocketdyne. I had been working at a company that manufactured what were, at the time, high density hard drives. This was in 1986 – 1987, and high density meant something like 5 Gigabytes! It was, for some reason I still can’t quite fathom, a seasonal business and when demand dropped all the temporary employees got laid off. That was me. I lost my job on a Friday. Later that evening I got a call from Apple One, the organization I was temping through, telling me to show up at Rocketdyne’s Canoga Park facility the following Monday.

To make an exceedingly long story short, I started work on the FMEA-CIL (Failure Mode & Effects Analysis-Critical Items List) the document that would prove Rocketdyne’s RS-25, SSME (Space Shuttle Main Engine) was safe for the Shuttle’s return to flight almost a year to the day after Challenger exploded during the ascent of STS-51-L. (For clarity, I think it important to note those engines were not responsible for the loss of Challenger; they had worked just fine.) I had long been a space cadet (in far more ways than one) but I never imagined I could end up working there, as I wasn’t an engineer. Silly me. I just hadn’t realized it takes a lot more than engineers to run a business that large and complex.

I was hired in after a year as what they referred to as a “job shopper.” I was forty years old. I retired 23 years later and it was the best, most fulfilling job I ever had, though dealing with a huge corporation (and “the Rock,” as we called it, was part of Rockwell International, the Boeing Company, United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney Division, and Aerojet) was why I left early. The Shuttle program was winding down and P&W offered everyone over 60 a severance package I just couldn’t refuse, even though it wasn’t terribly generous.

Nevertheless, I’ve remained deeply interested in space exploration. I have long believed it’s important to the survival of humanity we get off the surface of this planet. I believe we need to establish not merely a scientific, but also a cultural presence off-planet in case of an extinction-level event. Frankly, it’s my opinion if we don’t do something about climate change and our contribution to it, we may be the ones causing such an event.

At any rate, all this is to say I am happy Perseverance landed safely on Mars this afternoon (PST) and appears to be functioning as designed. I’m looking forward to learning more about the Red Planet. I’m especially keen on learning how well the Moxie instrument (see graphic, below) accomplishes its mission of producing oxygen from Martian CO2. Congratulations to JPL and the Perseverance team. Job well done!

PS – I’ve also posted a graphic depicting one of Perseverance’s scientific missions, the Ingenuity helicopter which, if successful, should dramatically improve our ability to send rovers to the most fruitful (scientifically) locations, after they’ve been scouted out by Ingenuity and its successors.


Is There A Doctor In The House?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I suspect just about everyone is aware of the flap over an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal regarding our soon-to-be First Lady’s credentials. Written by Joseph Epstein, it’s entitled “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.” and subtitled “Jill Biden should think about dropping the honorific, which feels fraudulent, even comic.”

My most recent job was as the Business Manager for a Machine Learning (AI) Software Development firm, the co-founder of which had a PhD in computer science. When last I spoke with her, which was at least a year ago, she was not using her title, which she feared was seen as somewhat presumptuous. I’m not sure how she feels about it now, and I’m inclined to agree with those who see this op/ed piece as misogynistic and hollow. Frankly, I have often wondered if I could use the honorific “Dr.” in front of my name because I have earned a Juris Doctorate (JD) when I graduated Law School in 1976. However, I’ve never done so because the amount of schooling, and the quality of work, required for the degree don’t match up to that of a PhD or EdD. Actually, I tend to agree with those who suggest calling oneself “Dr.” when in possession of a law degree is ridiculous and pedantic.

It’s been discussed at great length by now, torn apart and analyzed by people far better at it than I, but I’d like to bring up what I think is an ancillary issue to that of the rank sexism and hypocrisy that exists wrt men and their seeming inability to accept women as their equals. What I’m referring to, which affects both men and women, regardless of race, creed, or color (though there are differences in degree and approach) is the depth of anti-intellectualism that has come to seemingly dominate our public life.

Just look at how many people are not only comfortable with, but are absolutely adamant about, ignoring science, facts, and reality-based analysis/synthesis. The number of people who believe most scientists are only doing what they do for the money is astounding. It’s likely one of, if not the, main reasons we’re doing so poorly in handling the pandemic here in the States.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Hardly! I recall deciding in the third grade (that would have been around 1955) I didn’t want to be seen by everybody as an egghead, which changed the trajectory of my life . . . and probably not in the best way it could have. I remember feeling at the time that I wouldn’t have any friends if I continued on the path of academic excellence I had been on. Part of me wishes I hadn’t made that choice, though my life turned out pretty well regardless. It’s just that, in retrospect, the decision was made because of the negative view most people I knew seemed to have about being too intelligent; or, at least, being willing to use that intelligence in a positive way.

I believe this is one of the reasons the United States is in the bind it’s in right now. We’re just coming off of a four-year bender with the sleaziest and dumbest President in our nation’s history. He came to power as the result of years of anti-intellectual posturing and reality TV-informed ignorance. I am thankful I have never watched one reality TV show, especially not The Apprentice or Celebrity Apprentice. It’s clear Donald Chrump managed to suck a large portion of the nation into believing he was a highly successful businessman when, in fact, he’s a serial fuck-up who managed to burn through tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars given to him by his father.

These past four years of the worst “leadership” of my lifetime has been brought to us by our nation’s well-developed sense of anti-intellectualism. This does not bode well for maintaining our position as a preeminent nation of entrepreneurs and innovators. Our quality of life in the United States is what it is in large part because of our scientific accomplishments. It amazes me so many people don’t recognize the value that science has added to our lives, be it at work, home, or play. Virtually every aspect of our lives is enhanced by science and the products and enhancements it brings to us on a heretofore regular basis. I fear we’re going to lose that edge. Perhaps we already have. More the pity.


Evolution

Another quite simple Photoshop effort, though all this is is a compilation of a quote I’m fond of and a photo of what is referred to as the pillars of creation, located in M16, the Eagle Nebula, over thataway.

The Pillars of Creation

If you study cosmology, and you’re not blinded by any particular religious dogma, it becomes clear that our evolution as a species (the human one) draws a gravity-assisted line from the first hydrogen atoms to who we are now. That we have reached a point in our evolution where we have been able to understand how we and our universe came about and developed over billions of years, I find every bit as awesome as the thought of some bearded white dude thinking us up out of nothing. Actually, I find it more awesome.

Understanding cosmological (read, primarily, stellar) as well as biological evolution is, to me, far more beautiful and compelling than anything I’ve learned from all of the world’s religions, including the one I was raised in (Judaism) and the one I was surrounded by (Christianity). I find it far more compelling and reasonable and, again for me, all the proof I need that we don’t need a “God” or “Gods” to explain how we came to be and where we’re headed.


Who’s The Virus?

The number and quality of videos being produced to educate the public about Trump’s many abuses and violations of the law is astounding. Between The Lincoln Project, Meidus Touch, and this one from Indivisible, he’s being hammered regularly. Only time will tell if it’s enough to ensure he is resoundingly repudiated this November 3, but I’m glad to see all the energy working for his political demise. This is my feeble attempt to spread the word as well. Please consider sharing. It doesn’t have to be my post; get the URL from YouTube and share that . . . on Twitter, FB, and wherever else your little ol’ pea-pickin’ heart desires. Thank you kindly.


Secular Religion. WTF?

The United States’ rogue Attorney General, Bill Barr, gave an interview to right wing dick bag, Mark Levin, the other day and I came across this tweet and response that highlights what I think is a deeply troubling reality about religion in today’s United States.

Faith in another context

https://twitter.com/SoapItUpHard/status/1292664554804019201

Putting aside Barr’s constant projection, what Soap And Science, PhD says about how much of the religious world views science seems on point. Science is based, above all else, on provable facts and reproducible evidence. Conclusions may be reduced by some to dogma, but they will not be able to withstand the scrutiny of others who can show reality is otherwise. We’re constantly updating our scientific knowledge as we learn more.

Not so with religion. Most all religions, certainly the major religions of the world, are built on dogma. For Judaism it’s the Torah, the Old Testament. For Christians it’s the New Testament with a nod to the Old Testament. For Islam, it’s the Koran with a nod to both the New and the Old Testaments. For Hinduism, it’s the Bhagavad-gita, and for Buddhism it’s the Sutras of Buddha, as well as others. I certainly don’t hold myself out as a religious scholar, so please don’t hold me too strictly to my list. I’ve likely missed quite a few and, perhaps, mis-characterized one or more of the others. All these books might as well have been written in stone, as they are accepted (mostly) as the word of the Almighty. (NB – I don’t think the Buddha was seen as a God, per se, but I think the basic theme here is correct.)

What concerns me most about the point Soap And Science is getting at is the concept that religious nutbags like Barr are, indeed, jealous of how well science works and, in fact, that it serves to explain the world far better than any religion has or is capable of doing.

While it pains me to do so, I don’t see any other conclusion than that the right—representing, in part, fundamental Christianity—will not hesitate to use violence when they realize they’re not getting their way. They are more than capable of perpetrating every vile thing they accuse the left of currently doing. In fact, that it’s in the very nature is proved by their accusations when there’s no evidence to substantiate them. They are hateful and violent; ergo so is everyone else, especially those they fear the most.

As Rachel Maddow is fond of saying, “watch this space.”


Masks Are For Cowards!

The Country’s Full of Sissies!

It really blows my mind that people think wearing a mask in order to protect others, as well as yourself, is somehow an indication of weakness. Is it weak for soldiers to wear helmets or gas masks when necessary? Do we make fun of Law Enforcement Officers who wear bullet-proof vests? How about nurses wearing masks, gowns, and face shields?

I guess only sheep and cowards use seat belts when driving and, really, who cares when food has reached its expiration date? It’s only a number, right?

Have I ever mentioned my belief Trump supporters are some of the dumbest idiots to ever “walk” this planet? For them, everything is politicized and science has no place in their understanding of how the world works. I’d pity them, but it seems they’re bound and determined to drag us down with them. Let’s not comply. Wear your mask in public. Let’s mitigate and bring this beast under control, which we may have to do without the assistance or coordination we might ordinarily expect from the Feds, seeing as how we have an incompetent boob at the top.


Time Stamp!

The RS-25, aka Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME)

Just thought I should mention today (Thursday, 14 May 2020) is the 10th anniversary of my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. I’m still not entirely sure it was the right thing to do (accept the early severance package they offered everyone over 60) but her I yam!


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