One of the puzzles noted by observers of the contemporary political and cultural scene is the division of the population into two factions, (called in the sloppy terminology of the United States) “liberal” and “conservative”, and that if you pick a member from either faction by observing his or her position on one of the divisive issues of the time, you can, with a high probability of accuracy, predict their preferences on all of a long list of other issues which do not, on the face of it, seem to have very much to do with one another. For example, here is a list of present-day hot-button issues, presented in no particular order.
Health care, socialised medicine
Climate change, renewable energy
Higher education subsidies, debt relief
Free speech (hate speech laws, Internet censorship)
Deficit spending, debt, and entitlement reform
Tax policy, redistribution
Foreign interventions, military spending
What a motley collection of topics! About the only thing they have in common is that the omnipresent administrative super-state has become involved in them in one way or another, and therefore partisans of policies affecting them view it important to influence the state’s action in their regard. And yet, pick any one, tell me what policies you favour, and I’ll bet I can guess at where you come down on at least eight of the other ten. What’s going on?... [Read More]
This is the second volume in Victor Klemperer’s diaries of life as a Jew in Nazi Germany. Volume 1 covers the years from 1933 through 1941, in which the Nazis seized and consolidated their power, began to increasingly persecute the Jewish population, and rearm in preparation for their military conquests which began with the invasion of Poland in September 1939.
I described that book as “simultaneously tedious, depressing, and profoundly enlightening”. The author (a cousin of the conductor Otto Klemperer) was a respected professor of Romance languages and literature at the Technical University of Dresden when Hitler came to power in 1933. Although the son of a Reform rabbi, Klemperer had been baptised in a Christian church and considered himself a protestant Christian and entirely German. He volunteered for the German army in World War I and served at the front in the artillery and later, after recovering from a serious illness, in the army book censorship office on the Eastern front. As a fully assimilated German, he opposed all appeals to racial identity politics, Zionist as well as Nazi.... [Read More]
This document was released to the general public by the United States War Department on August 12th, 1945, just days after nuclear weapons had been dropped on Japan (Hiroshima on August 6th and Nagasaki on August 9th). The author, Prof. Henry D. Smyth of Princeton University, had worked on the Manhattan Project since early 1941, was involved in a variety of theoretical and practical aspects of the effort, and possessed security clearances which gave him access to all of the laboratories and production facilities involved in the project. In May, 1944, Smyth, who had suggested such a publication, was given the go ahead by the Manhattan Project’s Military Policy Committee to prepare an unclassified summary of the bomb project. This would have a dual purpose: to disclose to citizens and taxpayers what had been done on their behalf, and to provide scientists and engineers involved in the project a guide to what they could discuss openly in the postwar period: if it was in the “Smyth Report” (as it came to be called), it was public information, otherwise mum’s the word.
The report is a both an introduction to the physics underlying nuclear fission and its use in both steady-state reactors and explosives, production of fissile material (both separation of reactive Uranium-235 from the much more abundant Uranium-238 and production of Plutonium-239 in nuclear reactors), and the administrative history and structure of the project. Viewed as a historical document, the report is as interesting in what it left out as what was disclosed. Essentially none of the key details discovered and developed by the Manhattan Project which might be of use to aspiring bomb makers appear here. The key pieces of information which were not known to interested physicists in 1940 before the curtain of secrecy descended upon anything related to nuclear fission were inherently disclosed by the very fact that a fission bomb had been built, detonated, and produced a very large explosive yield.... [Read More]
The term “Black Friday” arose in 1960s Philadelphia when police officers’ leave was cancelled to deal with the crowds, traffic, and disorder that often followed the massive post-Thanksgiving Day shopping event. Now, we add a new chapter to Black Friday history with a massive online book sale.
Some of today’s top indie authors are offering great deals on their work for Black Friday/Cyber Monday – all these books are either $0.99 each or free (set by the author or publisher, so please confirm before buying). There’s something for everyone: adventure, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and above all, great story telling.
In 1966, the author graduated from Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. He had no immediate job prospects or career plans. He thought he might be interested in computer programming due to a love of solving puzzles, but he had never programmed a computer. When asked, in one of numerous job interviews, how he would go about writing a program to alphabetise a list of names, he admitted he had no idea. One day, walking home from yet another interview, he passed an unimpressive brick building with a sign identifying it as the “MIT Instrumentation Laboratory”. He’d heard a little about the place and, on a lark, walked in and asked if they were hiring. The receptionist handed him a long application form, which he filled out, and was then immediately sent to interview with a personnel officer. Eyles was amazed when the personnel man seemed bent on persuading him to come to work at the Lab. After reference checking, he was offered a choice of two jobs: one in the “analysis group” (whatever that was), and another on the team developing computer software for landing the Apollo Lunar Module (LM) on the Moon. That sounded interesting, and the job had another benefit attractive to a 21 year old just graduating from university: it came with deferment from the military draft, which was going into high gear as U.S. involvement in Vietnam deepened.
Near the start of the Apollo project, MIT’s Instrumentation Laboratory, led by the legendary “Doc” Charles Stark Draper, won a sole source contract to design and program the guidance system for the Apollo spacecraft, which came to be known as the “Apollo Primary Guidance, Navigation, and Control System” (PGNCS, pronounced “pings”). Draper and his laboratory had pioneered inertial guidance systems for aircraft, guided missiles, and submarines, and had in-depth expertise in all aspects of the challenging problem of enabling the Apollo spacecraft to navigate from the Earth to the Moon, land on the Moon, and return to the Earth without any assistance from ground-based assets. In a normal mission, it was expected that ground-based tracking and computers would assist those on board the spacecraft, but in the interest of reliability and redundancy it was required that completely autonomous navigation would permit accomplishing the mission.... [Read More]
The author was born in 1921 and grew up in Southern California. He was obsessed with aviation from an early age, wangling a ride in a plane piloted by a friend of his father (an open cockpit biplane) at age six. He built and flew many model airplanes and helped build the first gasoline-powered model plane in Southern California, with a home-built engine. The enterprising lad’s paper route included a local grass field airport, and he persuaded the owner to trade him a free daily newspaper (delivery boys always received a few extra) for informal flying lessons. By the time he turned thirteen, young Scott (he never went by his first name, “Albert”) had accumulated several hours of flying time.
In the midst of the Great Depression, his father’s milk processing business failed, and he decided to sell out everything in California, buy a 120 acre run-down dairy farm in rural Washington state, and start over. Patiently, taking an engineer’s approach to the operation: recording everything, controlling costs, optimising operations, and with the entire family pitching in on the unceasing chores, the ramshackle property was built into a going concern and then a showplace.... [Read More]
We live in an age where the canon of Western Civilization is under fire. Those who oppose it want freedom from the rules laid down by it. When you think about it chaos has a lot freedom because you get to do almost anything. Nowadays people can pick their “truth”. No one has a right to harsh their mellow. If you can believe “you can fly” who am I to say you are not a bird. It sounds so nice but is it.
In the military the expendables are cannon fodder on the battle field. In this post modern world the expendables are fodder of the destruction of long held systems that kept society going. As way of explanation, there was a department store in South Korea* that fell down because the person building it wanted to add things by cutting away at the structure. More escalators and restaurants. It opened and then lasted 5 years. It looked good until the day over 500 people died. I think in the same way eating away at the structures will not cause immediate damage but the structure will come down. And when it does there will be plenty of casualties. Of course, the blame will go to the laws of physics being repressive and bigoted. (That last sentence was a joke, Damocles.)... [Read More]
Ever since the emergence of the personal computer software market in the 1970s, vendors mostly adopted an “outright sale” model of licensing. The customer purchased the product, often originally in a shrink-wrapped box, which delivered the software on media such as floppy discs or CD-ROM, along with a license which (usually) conferred the perpetual right to use the software on one computer. This model, adopted from the consumer electronics industry, is not a particularly good fit for the software business. Unlike a television set or even a personal computer, software continues to evolve over time, as new features are added, support for new and more capable hardware is integrated, changes are made to maintain compatibility with the underlying software platform (operating system, window manager, database package, etc.), and modifications are made to comply with and support evolving industry standards.
All of this requires ongoing investment by the software vendor, and if revenue is received just once, with the initial purchase, it’s difficult to see how this can be funded, especially once the period of rapid growth comes to an end and a product obtains a large market share with an installed base which have already paid for it. Trying to persuade users to buy an entire new product and discard the old one is a non-starter, except for some very low price point products such as games (where the update is usually positioned as a new edition in a series). So, vendors mostly tried to persuade their installed base to pay for updates, at a fraction of the price of the original software, and customers constantly pushed back about the cost of the updates and often continued to use ancient versions of the software, which caused the vendor headaches and customers difficulty when older versions of a program wouldn’t read files written by the current release.... [Read More]
This video covers how doctors get swayed by the money. There are various ways that this happens. They get gifts. They are shown promotional material and then asked their opinion on it for $1000. They get flown around to nice places for meetings and have their expenses cover. Doctors in academia as the video says “Go for the science and stay for the money”. They get RICH. The conclusion of a medical study seems to come from who backs the study more than by actual facts. The subtitle for this video is:Financial Conflicts of Interests and the End of Evidence-Based Medicine. I hope we have not seen the “end” yet. (The video is 50 minutes but watching just the start will give you an idea of it. Sorry Mike, there were no cheerleaders in the video.) ... [Read More]
This will be a somewhat different installment of Saturday Night Science. Rather than discussing a book or news related to science and technology, this time, motivated by having recently read and reviewed Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record, I’m going to survey some of the tools individuals can use to attempt to reclaim a bit of their privacy in the face of ubiquitous mass surveillance by governments and technology companies. This is not intended to be an encyclopedic survey of the field, which is vast, complicated, and constantly changing. Instead, this is an introduction intended to point readers toward tools and approaches, many of which I have used myself, discuss trade-offs between security and convenience, and provide links for further research. The various topics are largely independent of one another, and are discussed in no particular order.
Private Web Browsing
At this writing, the most widely used Web browser is Google’s Chrome, with a market share around 65% which is expected to grow to more than 70% by the end of 2019. Chrome is famous for “phoning home”: every site you visit, link you follow, search you perform, and choice you make from the suggestions it so helpfully provides you is potentially reported back to Google headquarters. This is stored in a dossier maintained about you, especially if you have, as you’re encouraged to, signed the browser in to your Google Account. That’s how they manage to show you advertisements so exquisitely (or sometimes humorously) targeted based upon your online activity. But you don’t have to be paranoid to worry about the consequences of, dare I say, such a permanent record being used against you should you come to the attention of the enforcers of good-think who abound in Silicon Valley.... [Read More]
The revolution in communication and computing technologies which has continually accelerated since the introduction of integrated circuits in the 1960s and has since given rise to the Internet, ubiquitous mobile telephony, vast data centres with formidable processing and storage capacity, and technologies such as natural language text processing, voice recognition, and image analysis, has created the potential, for the first time in human history, of mass surveillance to a degree unimagined even in dystopian fiction such as George Orwell’s 1984 or attempted by the secret police of totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, or North Korea. But, residents of enlightened developed countries such as the United States thought, they were protected, by legal safeguards such as the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, from having their government deploy such forbidding tools against its own citizens. Certainly, there was awareness, from disclosures such as those in James Bamford’s 1982 book The Puzzle Palace, that agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) were employing advanced and highly secret technologies to spy upon foreign governments and their agents who might attempt to harm the United States and its citizens, but their activities were circumscribed by a legal framework which strictly limited the scope of their domestic activities.
Well, that’s what most people believed until the courageous acts by Edward Snowden, a senior technical contractor working for the NSA, revealed, in 2013, multiple programs of indiscriminate mass surveillance directed against, well, everybody in the world, U.S. citizens most definitely included. The NSA had developed and deployed a large array of hardware and software tools whose mission was essentially to capture all the communications and personal data of everybody in the world, scan it for items of interest, and store it forever where it could be accessed in future investigations. Data were collected through a multitude of means: monitoring traffic across the Internet, collecting mobile phone call and location data (estimated at five billion records per day in 2013), spidering data from Web sites, breaking vulnerable encryption technologies, working with “corporate partners” to snoop data passing through their facilities, and fusing this vast and varied data with query tools such as XKEYSCORE, which might be thought of as a Google search engine built by people who from the outset proclaimed, “Heck yes, we’re evil!”... [Read More]
This is the second book in the author’s “Altered Space” series of alternative histories of the cold war space race. Each stand-alone story explores a space mission which did not take place, but could have, given the technology and political circumstances at the time. The first, Zero Phase, asks what might have happened had Apollo 13’s service module oxygen tank waited to explode until after the lunar module had landed on the Moon. The third, Island of Clouds, tells the story of a Venus fly-by mission using Apollo-derived hardware in 1972.
The present short book (120 pages in paperback edition) is the tale of a Soviet circumlunar mission piloted by Yuri Gagarin in October 1967, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution and the tenth anniversary of the launch of Sputnik. As with all of the Altered Space stories, this could have happened: in the 1960s, the Soviet Union had two manned lunar programmes, each using entirely different hardware. The lunar landing project was based on the N1 rocket, a modified Soyuz spacecraft called the 7K-LOK, and the LK one-man lunar lander. The Zond project aimed at a manned lunar fly-by mission (the spacecraft would loop around the Moon and return to Earth on a “free return trajectory” without entering lunar orbit). Zond missions would launch on the Proton booster with a crew of one or two cosmonauts flying around the Moon in a spacecraft designated Soyuz 7K-L1, which was stripped down by removal of the orbital module (forcing the crew to endure the entire trip in the cramped launch/descent module) and equipped for the lunar mission by the addition of a high gain antenna, navigation system, and a heat shield capable of handling the velocity of entry from a lunar mission.... [Read More]
Last July, we celebrated Apollo 11, which performed the first manned landing on the Moon on July 20th, 1969. This month marks the sixtieth anniversary of the first landing on the Moon, and the first spacecraft from Earth to touch another body in the solar system.
On September 12th, 1959, the Soviet Union launched Luna 2 toward the Moon. This was the fifth Soviet attempt to launch a spacecraft to impact the Moon. The first three failed during launch. The fourth, Luna 1, missed the Moon by 5965 km and went into orbit around the Sun. Luna 2, an identical spacecraft, was launched on a direct trajectory to the Moon by a booster designated 8K72, which used the R-7 ballistic missile (the same type which launched Sputnik) to launch an upper stage called Block E, which boosted the spacecraft toward the Moon. The launch used a direct trajectory, Jules Verne-style, which did not enter either Earth or Moon orbit, but instead travelled directly from launch to impact on the lunar surface.... [Read More]
This book was originally published in 1993 with a revised edition in 1996. This Kindle edition, released in 2018, and available for free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers, appears to be identical to the last print edition, although the number of typographical, punctuation, grammatical, and formatting errors (I counted 78 in 176 pages of text, and I wasn’t reading with a particularly critical eye) makes me wonder if the Kindle edition was made by optical character recognition of a print copy and never properly copy edited before publication. The errors are so frequent and egregious that readers will get the impression that the publisher couldn’t be bothered to read over the text before it reached their eyes.
Sometimes, a book with mediocre production values can be rescued by its content, but that is not the case here. The author, who served two tours as a rifleman with the U.S. Army in Vietnam (1965 and 1966), then fought with the Rhodesian Territorials in the early 1970s and the Croatian Army in 1991–1992, argues that the U.S. has been transformed from a largely homogeneous republic in which minorities and newcomers were encouraged and provided a path to assimilate, and is now a multi-ethnic empire in which each group (principally, whites and those who, like most East Asians, have assimilated to the present majority’s culture; blacks; and Hispanics) sees itself engaged in a zero-sum contest against the others for power and the wealth of the empire.... [Read More]
On November 11th, 2019, between 12:35 and 18:04 universal time (UTC), Mercury, the innermost planet, will pass in front of the Sun as seen from Earth: an astronomical spectacle called a “planetary transit”. Planetary transits visible from Earth are relatively rare events: only the inner planets Mercury and Venus can ever pass between the Sun and Earth, and they are only seen to cross its disc when the plane of the planet’s orbit intersects the plane of the Earth’s orbit (the ecliptic) close to the time when the planet is at inferior conjunction with the Sun. On most inferior conjunctions, the orbital planes do not align (or, in other words, are not close to a node crossing) and the planet “misses” the Sun, passing above or below it as seen from Earth.
Mercury’s orbit crosses the ecliptic around May 8 and November 11 at the present epoch, and so transits always occur within a few days of those dates. The most recent transit of Mercury was on May 9th, 2016 (when, despite being clouded out for most of the event, I managed to briefly observe and photograph it through thin clouds), and the next transit will not occur until November 13th, 2032, so if you miss this one, you’ll have a thirteen year wait until the next opportunity.... [Read More]