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]
“Watching sports like football is the closest the average man comes to the contemplation of eternal things. The game is one of the only places left where we still find cheating to be cheating. We find glory in what is earned. We find corruption and repentance, honor, competence, vanity, and genuine humility.” – Father James V. Schall (1928-2019)
Father Schall, a prominent Catholic philosopher from Georgetown University, died earlier this year at the age of ninety-one. At the time of Schall’s birth, American football was nearing the end of its childhood. In the 1930s, football would begin to emerge as one of this country’s most popular sports.... [Read More]
The very term iatrogenics, i.e., the study of the harm caused by the healer, is not widespread—I have never seen it used outside medicine. In spite of my lifelong obsession with what is called type 1 error, or the false positive, I was only introduced to the concept of iatrogenic harm very recently, thanks to a conversation with the essayist Bryan Appleyard. How can such a major idea remain hidden from our consciousness?... [Read More]
The date was October 26, 1985 and the place was the great West Texas city of El Paso. I was ten years old and in the fifth grade, and like most El Pasoans was looking forward to the upcoming college basketball season. The UTEP (University of Texas at El Paso) Miners basketball team, coached by the legendary Don Haskins, was the pride and joy of the Sun City. They regularly ranked in the AP Top Twenty (as the rankings were then called) and were expected to not only compete for a Western Athletic Conference (WAC) championship every year, but to also go deep into the NCAA Tournament.
Expectations for UTEP Miners football, by contrast, were lower. Much lower. Gridiron-wise, UTEP was college football Siberia: a place where coaching careers went to die. Such was the fate that loomed over head coach Bill Yung during the fall of 1985. The Miners were 0-6 and the team they were slated to play on that last weekend of October was none other than the #7-ranked Cougars of Brigham Young University (BYU), the defending national champions. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was expecting a blowout. Coach Yung likely felt the same way, but not his young offensive coordinator, a native of San Antonio named Hal Mumme (pronounced “mummy”). For some time, Mumme had been studying BYU’s passing plays, in particular a play called the Y-cross, which the Cougars never expected to see used against them. But Mumme did, and that plus an inspired Miners defense resulted in a shocking upset over BYU, 23-16.... [Read More]
In October 2017, astronomers using the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii discovered a small object passing relatively near the Earth (33 million km, 0.22 astronomical units (AU), or about 85 times farther away than the Moon). Initial attempts to fit an orbit to its path, tracked by a series of observations failed. It was realised that the object is on a strongly hyperbolic orbit and is not gravitationally bound to the Sun: dynamically, it is not a part of the solar system—it is an interstellar object, the first to be observed, just passing through. It was first considered to be a comet, but extended observations by large telescopes failed to detect any of the emissions of dust and gas which one would expect from a comet, especially one making its first close approach to a star in many millennia, and perhaps ever. It was then re-classified as an asteroid. Finally, it was given the designation 1I/2017 U1 and the informal name `Oumuamua, which means “scout” or “messenger” in the Hawaiian language.
Further observations deepened the mystery: `Oumuamua was discovered after it had made its closest approach to the Sun on September 9th, 2017 at a distance of 0.25 AU (inside the orbit of Mercury), and as it receded from the Sun, careful tracking of its position indicated it was not following a trajectory as would be expected from Newton’s laws, but rather losing velocity slower than gravitation would account for (or, in other words, it had an outward acceleration added to the deceleration of gravity). This is often the case for comets, whose emission of gas and dust released due to heating by the Sun acts like a rocket to propel the body away from the Sun. But that conflicts with the failure to detect any such emissions from `Oumuamua by telescopes and instruments with more than adequate sensitivity to observe emissions which could account for the acceleration.... [Read More]
In a number of comments on various posts here over the last year or so, and asides in main posts, I have discussed my conclusion that there is an organised mechanism, akin to a public relations firm, which is generating the “narrative” that seems to occupy the minds of the legacy media and politicians associated with them at any given moment. I have no concrete evidence to back up this belief, but the existence of JournoList between 2007 and 2010 (which was shut down after its public exposure) indicates that prominent media figures are interested in and willing to co-ordinate their efforts in favour of the causes they advocate.
My conviction that the narrative of the moment is actively manufactured, disseminated among top-level figures in the media and “progressive” politics, and then passed down through the ranks by a mechanism akin to an old-time “phone tree” (in which most of the ultimate recipients are unaware of the origin of the themes and specific phrases they parrot), is that the way each new obsession simultaneously appears within hours to days on the lips and in the printed works of hundreds of supposedly independent players simply doesn’t fit the model of the organic diffusion of information. Further, when precisely the same phrases are used by widely-separated speakers, and a neatly packaged interpretation of an unexpected event is presented a day or two after it happens, that doesn’t look like a bottom-up process. And finally, when you observe this phenomenon again and again, with precisely the same pattern, that reinforces the suspicion that something is going on to make it happen. As Ian Fleming had his supervillain Auric Goldfinger say, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”... [Read More]