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February 29th, 2024

Science Kid

Okay…so yesterday was National Science Day but I was only reminded of that fact today, on National Feel Sorry For Kids Who Only Get Birthdays Every Four Years Day.

When I was a schoolkid, there were two subjects where I reliably got A’s every time…science class, and art class. Everywhere else it was C’s and D’s. Even English class. I was a voracious reader ever since I learned the trick, and where the other kids might fill one card of books they’d read I routinely had multiple cards filled. But I could be stubborn about reading books that bored me and so reading assignments often went undone and I’d get an F, or they’d get done half-assedly and I’d get a D. This is why I never even got close to the Honor Roll.

I was all about science well before I really understood what it was. Any TV show having anything to do with science, and that included the nature programs, I was always right there in front of the TV to watch when the time came. And even the kid shows, cartoons and such, that I favored had some sort of science-fiction flavor to them…Supercar…Space Angel…Astroboy…

Before there was Bill Nye, this is who I watched raptly every Saturday morning for my science hit. What was nice about this show was he showed kids experiments they could do themselves. That is, instead of just talking to us about science, he showed us how to do it. I probably tried a few of them myself. It gets you in the habit of experimenting and testing what you don’t know for sure is or isn’t true. And that prepares you for adult life in a world full of superstition, prejudices handed down for generations, lies, damn lies, and slickly crafted disinformation.

Mythbusters was another science show I came to love in my adult years. It was a lot of fun. But most of their experiments were not safe for around the house.

by Bruce | Link | React!

April 24th, 2020

Hubble Turns 30 – Scientific American

I am still so amazed to be a part of all this…

A Birthday Message from the Hubble Telescope

I have seen 160,000 sunrises and sunsets, more than anyone could hope for. Circling hundreds of miles above the surface of our big blue marble for 30 years, I’ve had a remarkable view of the universe. I haven’t always been comfortable up here, but thanks to many of you I have outgrown a host of problems and found a purpose far more expansive and satisfying than anything my creators envisioned.



Go read the rest. Happy Birthday Hubble!


by Bruce | Link | React!

December 5th, 2019

Memo To The Kook Pews

Listen to me all you god created everyone as either male or female jackasses: Nature does what it damn well pleases. And if that’s too secular for you, fine. Here’s something god created.

And there’s lots more where this lovely little thing came from. Deal with it.

by Bruce | Link | React!

July 25th, 2012

Thinking About Nothing

Danger…deep thinking ahead.   Sorry…but I’ve been chewing on this since my last post about “Why is there something rather than nothing”. Probably it’s all the Science Channel stuff I’ve been watching lately.

Run it backwards. The question I mean. Or…forwards let’s say.   Instead of why is there something rather than nothing, ask how do you get nothing out of something. I’m serious here. Supposedly matter is never destroyed, it’s simply converted into the energies it sprang from, and energy is never lost, it simply goes to entropy…a state where you can’t do anything with it. That, as I understand it, is the rule by which our physical universe works.   The following is from Wikipedia…

The four laws of thermodynamics are:

  • Zeroth law of thermodynamics: If two systems are in thermal equilibrium with a third system, they must be in thermal equilibrium with each other. This law helps define the notion of temperature.
  • First law of thermodynamics: Heat and work are forms of energy transfer. Energy is invariably conserved but the internal energy of a closed system changes as heat and work are transferred in or out of it. Equivalently, perpetual motion machines of the first kind are impossible.
  • Second law of thermodynamics: The entropy of any isolated system not in thermal equilibrium almost always increases. Isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermal equilibrium — the state of maximum entropy of the system — in a process known as “thermalization”. Equivalently, perpetual motion machines of the second kind are impossible.
  • Third law of thermodynamics: The entropy of a system approaches a constant value as the temperature approaches zero. The entropy of a system at absolute zero is typically zero, and in all cases is determined only by the number of different ground states it has. Specifically, the entropy of a pure crystalline substance at absolute zero temperature is zero.

Okay…so as I read this, and as I have always understood it, you can’t destroy energy.   Energy is invariably conserved… You just move it from one place or form to another.   You need energy that hasn’t degraded into entropy to do work, but when you do the work, transfer energy, entropy increases.   No transfer of energy is ever 100 percent efficient.   Some is always lost to entropy.   Eventually entropy is all there is.   But as I understand it, the energy is still there.

So…the thinking these days as I understand it, is given that the rate of expansion of the universe is increasing as the universe gets bigger, the end game of our universe is The Big Chill.   That is, it spreads itself so thin the energy in it approaches absolute zero and it’s all entropy nearly all the matter in it has decayed and maybe there are a few protons left but even those will eventually decay and then time simply stops.   (the best definition I ever heard of time was when a physicist on a science program I was watching ages ago said that “time is one damn thing after another”.)   Fine.   I’m told physicists working in the standard model will basically dismiss questions about “what happened before the “Big Bang” as meaningless since time did not exist before there was a universe.   There was no “before”.   Okay.   Fine.   So no time before there was time, and time will stop eventually.   But at the end of time and beyond if energy isn’t gone (let alone the space) then you don’t have a state of absolute nothing.   You still have a “something”.   And from all I can grok here you can’t make it go gone.

So once you have something you can’t make it nothing again.   You can move the something around but you can’t make it simply disappear.   Energy is invariably conserved.   If that’s true, then you can’t ever reach a state of absolute nothing.   Not in this universe, not in any universe.   If you could find a way to drain all the leftover energy out of this universe, all you’re doing then is just putting it somewhere else.   If it cannot be destroyed then how do we say it nonetheless had to have been created at some point?   If the question is where did the something in the Big Bang come from, then it’s looking to me like the answer is, it was always there.

So maybe we’re back to the concept of forces that are simply eternal.   Which is as hard to wrap your head around as absolute nothing, but then you pretty much had to figure whatever the ultimate answer is it would be.

by Bruce | Link | React!

July 24th, 2012

“Why Is There Something Rather Then Nothing?”

Sullivan posts thusly…

Ask Jim Holt Anything: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

…he has a new book out, Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story. How Jim described the question in an interview with John Williams:

Why does the universe go through all the bother of existing? Why is there something rather than nothing? William James called this “the darkest question in all philosophy.” For Wittgenstein, the world’s existence was cause for wonder. “It is not how things are in the world that is mystical,” he declared, “but that it exists.”

… I was brought up in a religious family, so the stock answer was that God made the world, and God himself existed eternally by his own nature. As a teenager I started to doubt this theological story. I became interested in existentialism and got my hands on a book by Heidegger called “An Introduction to Metaphysics.” The very first sentence was, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” I can still remember how the sheer poetry of it bowled me over.

Well…this is a question I think we all ponder early on in our lives.   And for most of us, raised in religious households of one sect or another, the answer is given simply: God created everything.   And for those of us smart asses who asked the obvious follow up, what created God then? The answer was God always existed.   He got lonely so he created us!

Which…eventually stopped being a satisfying answer to the question.   Eventually I came to understand that unless you postulate eternity everyone believes something was created from nothing.   We just disagree on the number and order of the steps.

Fine.   We are not Gods ourselves that we can really expect to grok the answer to that question completely.   The details may simply be beyond the grasp of the human brain.   One of my favorite passages from the Bible is still where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? We were not there to witness it.   All we have is the result of whatever processes took place.   If space is the final frontier then the birth of the cosmos is the first mystery from which all other mysteries, all other questions arise.   But we can try to figure it out and we are a curious kind.   We want to know the story of our birth, why we came to be, what does our future hold.   And I still believe that if we are brave and honest we can get close to those answers.

Perhaps the problem is that creatures with finite lifespans such as ours just can’t get the concept of eternity.   Why not simply state that the cosmos always existed?   It seems after all the simplest answer.   To me it’s simpler to assume a small set of eternal forces of nature then such a highly complex thing as an eternal supreme intelligence always existed…and I accept that your mileage may vary.   Fine.   But maybe we’re all missing something.   Or rather, assuming it.

There is a warning given to young programmers: while designing a system, beware the hidden assumptions.     I think it’s a good rule in general, to ask from time to time, what do we know, and how do we know it? We tend to assume that nothing is a the most stable of states which if left alone, if untouched by some outside force,   will simply always exist.   How could it not be so? Then some months back I was watching Dr. Michio Kaku discussing physics and the origins of the universe and he suggested something very provocative, at least to me: Perhaps nothing is the unstable state.

And if you were to dismiss that speculation as simply nuts I’d have to shrug and reply that thinking the entire universe could have sprung from a singularity probably looked like pretty nutty thinking back in the day.   But then people began hypothesizing what you might find if it were so, and evidence was gathered.   The first step in gathering evidence can sometimes seem nutty.   It’s because the mindset is failing you, your tests based on it keep failing, and you’re just going in circles.   The first person to challenge a very entrenched mindset is going to sound nutty.   That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right…usually they aren’t…but if you keep running into brick walls it might mean your frame of reference just isn’t working and you need to consider others that might look and sound nutty.   Just keep in mind that what matters ultimately is the evidence.   Lots of paths science takes turn out to be dead ends.   The point is to keep looking and respect the evidence.   Let nature speak for itself.

But to find the evidence, you need to figure out where to go looking for it.   If the question, “why is there something rather then nothing”, is a challenge to prove that something can be created from nothing, then perhaps the universe has already proven it.   We are here after all, and if you believe in God, fine, then God is here too.   But if nothing existed before either God or the cosmos then the cosmos has already pretty decisively proven that something can in fact, be created from nothing.   Quite a lot of something actually.

So then the question becomes not so much a why, as a how.   Maybe rethinking the assumed absolute stability of nothing might be a start at it.   Maybe the answer turns out to be something like that it is impossible for a state of absolute nothing to even exist because that state is simply too unstable.

What do we know, and how do we know it?


[Edited a tad upon further pondering…]

by Bruce | Link | React!

April 6th, 2012

Today In News You Probably Didn’t Know Was Old News

I am reminded of a colleague who reiterated, “all my homosexual patients
are quite sick”, to which I finally replied “so are all my heterosexual patients.”

-Ernest van den Haag, psychotherapist

There is nothing wrong with homosexuals.   That is a simple statement of fact.   Not opinion.   Fact.   Well researched, well established, scientific fact. And it has been well established fact for quite a very long time.   If you were born in the 1960s or later, then this fact is older then you are.

Jim Burroway over at Box Turtle Bulletin writes…

Study of 100 Homosexuals: 1957. There had been a string of high profile arrests of very prominent and well-known men in Britain in the early 1950s, including Lord Montagu, his cousin, Maj. Michael Pitt-Rivers, and journalist Peter Wildeblood,  all of whom had been charged and convicted of homosexual offenses. Their arrests opened the debate over whether homosexual acts between consenting adults should remain criminalized.

So in 1954 a study was convened under the leadership of Lord Wolfenden whose name would later be attached to a report recommending the complete decriminalization of homosexual relationships among consenting adults in Britain.   And how did they come to this conclusion?   Well they didn’t consult the bible, and they didn’t ask the prejudices of their day.   They did something positively unique for that day when it came to the subject of homosexuality.

They looked for evidence.

One problem with the published research on gay men was that virtually all of it was based on clinical or criminal populations, which Curran and Parr acknowledged would not necessarily be representative of the general population of gay men. In their report, they acknowledged that their sample would likely exhibit higher rates of psychiatric problems or criminal recidivism. But when they looked into the files of these 100 men who had been referred to their practice, the authors observed:

…[I]n spite of the probability that any group of homosexuals referred to a psychiatrist might be expected to be heavily weighted in the direction of psychiatric abnormality, no fewer than 51 % were considered to be free from gross personality disorder, neurosis, or psychosis during their adult lives. Only one was certifiably defective and none certifiably insane. They included a number of important and talented individuals of high integrity, successful, efficient, and respected members of the community. Only two had been on any criminal charge other than homosexuality. Very few showed the traditional “pansy” picture of homosexuals; indeed, only 21 were noted to have at all obvious homosexual personality traits, only one of these being a paedophiliac.

So in spite of their having difficulty recruiting a completely representative sample of gay men, in spite of their sample being weighted toward mental patents and criminals, they found less mental aberration then they would have otherwise expected. In fact slightly better then half their sample showed no signs of gross mental illness at all.

Only half the patients showed significant psychiatric abnormality other than their sexual deviation, and such associated abnormalities were often slight. Moreover, many of these abnormalities were explicable as a reaction to the difficulties of being homosexual. Symptomatic homosexuality was rare.

And then it gets down to brass tacks.   Is homosexuality a disease?   Is this even a problem?

If homosexuality is a disease (as has often been suggested), it is in a vast number of cases monosymptomatic, non-progressive, and compatible with subjective well-being and objective efficiency. In our series, both practicing and non-practicing homosexuals were on the whole successful and valuable members of society, quite unlike the popular conception of such persons as vicious, criminal, effete, or depraved. Only one-fifth were at all obviously ” pansy,” and we found no reason to regard most of the patients as physically, intellectually, or emotionally immature (unless the basic criterion for ” immaturity” is that of being homosexual-a circular argument).

What they’re saying here is that if homosexuality is a disease then its one that has only one symptom (homosexuality) does not get worse if untreated, and does not negatively impact the overall health and well being of the individual who has it.   Really…can you even call it a disease in that case?

This is similar to what American researcher Evelyn Hooker in her 1957 paper The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual found: well adjusted homosexuals are clinically indistinguishable from well adjusted heterosexuals. From her Wiki entry…

She gathered two groups of men: one group would be exclusively homosexual, the other exclusively heterosexual. She contacted the Mattachine Society to find homosexual men. She had greater difficulty finding heterosexual men. She also had to use her home to conduct the interview to protect people’s anonymity…

Hooker realized that all extant science on homosexuality consisted of studies conducted on homosexual men who had already been committed to mental institutions or imprisoned for sexual offenses. Her experiment was simple and elegant and beautiful in the way all great science is simple and elegant and beautiful.

She recruited two groups of sexually active young men, one gay and one straight.   From both groups she eliminated anyone who had ever been in therapy or trouble with the law.   Then she gave each group a battery of what were then standard clinical psychiatric tests…

Hooker used three different psychological tests for her study: the TAT, the Make-a-Picture-Story test (MAPS test), and the Rorschach inkblot test.

She used trained professionals who were skilled in administering each of the tests.   The testers did not know whether they were testing a homosexual man or a heterosexual. When she got the results back she further anonymized them so nobody looking at the tests could tell who administered the test.   Standard double-blind technique.

Then she did something simple and beautiful…

After a year of work, Hooker presented a team of 3 expert evaluators with 60 unmarked psychological profiles.

…she passed the results out to the experts and asked them if they could identify the homosexuals.

No one could.

First, she contacted Bruno Klopfer, an expert on Rorschach tests to see if he would be able to identify the sexual orientation of people through their results at those tests. His ability to differentiate was no better than chance.

Then Edwin Shneidman, creator of the MAPS test, also analyzed the 60 profiles. It took him six months and he too found that both groups were highly similar in their psychological make-up.

The third expert was Dr Mortimer Mayer who was so certain he would be able to tell the two groups apart that he went through the process twice.

The three evaluators agreed that in terms of adjustment, there were no differences between the members of each group

Well adjusted homosexuals are clinically indistinguishable from well adjusted heterosexuals.   This was what the Wolfsden researchers also found.   And this is what everyone who objectively studies gay people has found ever since.

The experiment, which other researchers subsequently repeated, demonstrates that most self-identified homosexuals are no worse in social adjustment than the general population

When you study sick homosexuals, people who have already been committed to mental institutions or sent to jail for sex crimes, then what you find are sick homosexuals.   But if you did the same thing with heterosexuals, only studying those in mental institutions or jail,   you would also conclude the same about heterosexuals and nobody does that.   The Christianist web site Lifesite tries to downplay Hooker’s study thusly…

Despite the fact that  the purpose of the study was ostensibly to examine the possibility of mental instability in homosexuals, individuals who showed signs of mental instability were  removed  from the groups, which further predetermined the study’s  conclusion.

But that was the point.   If homosexuality was the result of mental dysfunction, as NARTH and their companions in the anti-gay industrial complex insist, then removing the individuals who showed signs of mental instability would have made not a whit of difference in the outcome. The experts Hooker contacted to evaluate her test results would have still been able to identify the homosexuals because homosexuals are mentally unstable, whether they show it outwardly or not.   That the experts could not identify the homosexuals with those mentally unstable individuals removed proved decisively that the old models of homosexuality were wrong.

I am reminded of a colleague who reiterated, “all my homosexual patients are quite sick”, to which I finally replied “so are all my heterosexual patients”…

“If homosexuality is a disease (as has often been suggested), it is in a vast number of cases monosymptomatic, non-progressive, and compatible with subjective well-being and objective efficiency. In our series, both practicing and non-practicing homosexuals were on the whole successful and valuable members of society, quite unlike the popular conception of such persons as vicious, criminal, effete, or depraved”…

“The three evaluators agreed that in terms of adjustment, there were no differences between the members of each group”…

Understand this if you understand nothing else about the anti-gay industrial complex: this is knowledge that is over a half century old now.   There is nothing new here.   Most of the people reading this post will have been born after modern science clearly and unambiguously established this fact: there is nothing wrong with homosexuals.   This has been understood in the science for over half a century.

by Bruce | Link | React! (5)

August 23rd, 2011

When I Use A Word It Means Just What I Want You To Hate

I see from Jeremy at Good As You that NOM is doubling down on the Gay Rights = Pedophilia rhetoric.   On the NOM Blog they’re pointing to a post by Joe Carter that babbles that same claptrap about the B4U-ACT Symposium happening in Baltimore Brian Brown was a couple days ago…

Back in June I outlined how to destroy a culture in 5 easy steps.

An academic symposium in Baltimore comprised of just such a cluster of professoriate and perverts is meeting today to shift the acceptance of pedophilia from “unthinkable” to merely “radical”…

With the euphemism “minor-attracted persons” they are also including Step #2: “From Radical to Acceptable — This shift requires the creation and employment of euphemism.”… Remember when conservatives were mocked and derided for claiming that Lawrence would lead to the normalization [of] polygamy and pedophilia? Now some of those same people who sneered at us are using the decision to promote . . . polygamy and pedophilia.

It looks like they’re fixating on the use of the term “minor-attracted persons” by a group of mental health professionals, but you need to understand while you read it that they know their audience.   They are speaking to the kook pews…the ones who don’t know and don’t care what words mean so long as they help win the culture war.   Words are weapons, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.   And science is the enemy that believes words have meaning.   What Joe Carter and Brian Brown know perfectly well, is that “minor-attracted persons” is not intended to obfuscate that meaning, but clarify it.   They know this.   But they also know their audience.

There is ephebophilia, which is the sexual attraction to mid to late adolescents…teens 15 and up.   There is hebephilia, which this symposium seems to view as the sexual attraction toward teens from post puberty to 14 years (I’ve seen this defined to a higher age range elsewhere). And then there is the ever popular (to the gay haters) pedophilia, which is the sexual attraction to children below the age of puberty. All these terms are used precisely and specifically by mental health professionals, whereas your usual right wing nutcase just says PEDOPHILE for all of it. And without a doubt that’s less because they are idiots with small vocabularies, smaller brains and even smaller regard for whether the words they do know mean anything, and more because they understand that screaming PEDOPHILE at gay people rouses passions and short circuits any possibility of mutual understanding. They don’t want understanding, they just want people to hate Teh Gay.

And that means science is the hated enemy.   More even, then Teh Gay.   It is the first enemy.   The enemy that must be brought down before all others, or else the war is lost.   Because the practice of science uses words for their actual meaning, not their tactical advantage.   Because science lets the evidence speak for itself.     Because science acknowledges no higher authority then the observable facts.   Let’s take a look once more, at the part of this symposium brochure that the kook pews are screaming bloody murder about:

This day-long symposium will facilitate the exchange of ideas among researchers, scholars, mental health practitioners, and minor-attracted persons who have an interest in critical issues surrounding the entry for pedophilia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association. The symposium will address critical issues in the following areas:

  • Scientific and philosophical issues related to the DSM entry on pedophilia and/or hebephilia
  • Effects of the DSM entry on stigma, availability of mental health services, and research
  • Ways in which minor-attracted persons can be involved in the DSM 5 revision process

It is crucial that the DSM be based on the most accurate and complete scientific information available, and on careful consideration of effects on the welfare of patients and society. This is especially true for the DSM entry on pedophilia; it has an enormous impact on the beliefs and practices of mental health professionals, the criminal justice system, the media, and the public. It also has a profound effect on adults and teenagers who are emotionally and sexually attracted to children or adolescents, on the availability of mental health services for them, and on relevant research.

It is crucial that the DSM be based on the most accurate and complete scientific information available, and on careful consideration of effects on the welfare of patients and society. No shit Sherlock. The problem is anything that tells us something real and useful about the human condition is almost certain to drive the kook pews into babbling hysterical fits.   Darwin anyone?

It is staringly obvious that the term “minor-attracted persons” in the context of this symposium is clearly intended to be an all-encompassing term for pedophilia and hebephilia together. To the world outside the anti-gay industrial complex, but especially the mental health profession, using the term pedophilia to describe all adults who are sexually attracted to minors is illiterate.   And to anyone who has followed the ravings of the gay-fixated kook pews, and especially crackpot wholesale warehouses like NOM and FRC, it would be easy to assume that illiteracy is the functional norm in there.   But it isn’t.   Not at the top.   Not where the money is being collected.   Not where the votes are being counted.   When Brian Brown and Joe Carter tell their readers that the term “minor attracted adults” is a euphemism signaling a desire to normalize pedophilia they know Exactly what they are doing.   They are rousing the mob.   And not just because the mob is the only tool they have left, to win the culture war.

The mob is their kinfolk, their kingdom, their shining city on the hill; cleansed completely of the hated Other, where no one rises above the prejudices of the many to remind them of the gutter they’ve turned America into, and which they are all living in.

by Bruce | Link | React!

April 23rd, 2009

Those Homosexuals Masters and Johnson Said They Cured Back In 1979? Yeah…Guess What…

Scientific American finds the usual void of actual data behind the claim of successful ex-gay therapy

Back in 1979, on Meet The Press and countless other TV appearances, Masters and Johnson touted their book, Homosexuality in Perspective—a 14-year study of more than 300 homosexual men and women…The results seemed impressive: Of the 67 male and female patients with “homosexual dissatisfaction,” only 14 failed in the initial two-week “conversion” or “reversion” treatment…During five years of follow-up, their success rate for both groups was better than 70 percent.

Not bad.  However…there was just one wee problem…

Prior to the book’s publication, doubts arose about the validity of their case studies. Most staffers never met any of the conversion cases during the study period of 1968 through 1977, according to research I’ve done for my new book Masters of Sex.  Clinic staffer Lynn Strenkofsky, who organized patient schedules during this period, says she never dealt with any conversion cases. Marshall and Peggy Shearer, perhaps the clinic’s most experienced therapy team in the early 1970s, says they never treated homosexuals and heard virtually nothing about conversion therapy.

When the clinic’s top associate, Robert Kolodny, asked to see the files and to hear the tape-recordings of these “storybook” cases, Masters refused to show them to him…

Kolodny began to suspect Masters had, at best created “composite” cases out of many individual ones at best, or at worst had committed outright fraud.  Virginia Johnson apparently had similar misgivings about Master’s conversion successes, but never spoke publicly about them.  She later regretted that the book had gone to the publisher in the form it had, saying, “That was a bad book.”  She feared that “Bill was being creative in those days” in compiling the conversion case studies.

Masters insisted right up to his death in 2001 that his work had been based on “…10 years of work with five years of follow-up—and it works.”  But he never showed anyone the actual data, and few who worked with him never saw any of the patients, let alone the work with them actually taking place.  Given how reliably such therapy fails to work for everyone else, it isn’t hard to figure why Masters never showed anyone the data.  He had the same reason Exodus, Love In Action, and a host of other conversion therapy quacks have.  The data doesn’t exist.  The human consciousness isn’t a blackboard anyone can scribble their will on.  It doesn’t work that way.  You can’t talk someone out of being homosexual any more then you can talk them out of being left handed, or having blue eyes.

by Bruce | Link | React!

January 9th, 2009

Fading Notes From The Cosmos’ First Song

I posted This a little while ago about a lecture I’d attended at Space Telescope on the nature of the first stars.  Folks I talked to afterward indicated that while the upcoming James Webb space Telescope might, just might, be able to see their explosive ends, it would be only by pure unreasonable luck.  They are just too far back in time, too red shifted, too distant and faint for anything we have in the works for the next twenty years or so.

But from this New York Times article, it looks as though maybe, just maybe, they’ve already been spotted.  Accidentally…just like the cosmic background noise was first spotted…

Theory Ties Radio Signal to Universe’s First Stars

When the universe was still young, they were already dying.

The first stars ever to grace the cosmos with light were brutish monsters, so the story believed by most astronomers goes, lumbering clouds of hydrogen and helium hundreds of times more massive than the Sun. They lived fast and bright and died hard, exploding or collapsing into massive black holes less than a billion years after the Big Bang, never to be seen again.

But they might have left something behind, a buzz of radio waves emitted by high-energy particles spit from the doomed gas swirling around those black holes.

They were looking at the cosmic background radiation at wavelengths not previously studied in detail.  What they saw were large magnetic whirls that were so energetic they’d be expected to come from the so-called radio galaxies…that is…galaxies that are very energetic in the radio frequencies due to the active and massive black holes in their center.  Active because they are still sucking in nearby matter.  You don’t generally see these galaxies in the visible light spectrum much, if at all, because they are so far away they’re red shifted.  But in the infrared, and in the radio spectrum there they are, bright as can be.  Hence they are referred to as radio galaxies.

But if these signals were coming from radio galaxies, then there should also be an equally strong infrared signal to go along with them, from the heat generated in their massive accretion disks.  But there is not much of a signal there.  There should be much more.  But that’s assuming the signal is coming from a massive center of a galaxy black hole. 

Even the first galaxies would have already had lots of recycled matter in them…matter that had already gone once or more though stars, and was seeded with heavier elements then hydrogen and helium in the process.  But if the black holes at the center of these accretion disks were surrounded by nothing but hydrogen and a little helium, and perhaps only a trace of heavier elements, then the infrared signal would be a lot weaker.  The only way that could be happening, is if the black hole in question is the ash from a first star. 

All the first stars had to burn with were the original hydrogen and helium left over from the big bang.  There was nothing else on the menu for stars in the newly born universe.  The first super-massive black holes would have lived in the same environment, as the heavier elements created by their star would have been blown far away in its final collapse.  So it’s possible that what they are seeing now, while not the light from the first stars, is the footprints they left behind. 

I have wondered for years now which comes first, the galaxy or the massive black hole in its center.  My layman’s hunch for a while now is that the black hole is the seed that starts it all.  But where do the first super massive black holes come from?  When I heard the story of the first stars I thought I had an idea where.  And then it came to me that the importance of the first stars isn’t that they started the process of generating the heavier elements, but that they generated the first black holes which were the seeds around which the galaxies could form.  Without those first super-massive black holes I don’t think you could get the galaxies as we see them now.  Maybe you’d get the kind of stars we see now, but a lot fewer of them and scattered around in a clusters and swarms in the darkness maybe.  But that’s just a layman’s guess, basically. 

by Bruce | Link | React!

December 6th, 2008

A Lovely Little Art Deco Spaceship, From When The Night Sky Was New

The Polaris II from The Space Explorers. Well…actually, it’s Weltraum Schiff 1 from the German film Weltraum schiff 1 startet.

Back in the 1950s, William Clayton and Fred Ladd combined several films into one they serialized and syndicated to local TV stations for use on their daytime children’s shows. I was a pre-schooler and the stars in the night sky were fascinating. Mom bought me a little “Golden Nature Guide” book on stars…


…which, as you can see, I’ve kept all these years. That book I think, was my first step into the world of learning, and what it taught me about the heavens above was a revelation. The sky above was beautiful, mysterious, and yet understandable. My world, which until then compassed only the backyard of the apartment complex we lived in, and a small shopping plaza just down the street, suddenly became huge.

There were other kid’s space shows on TV back then, but The Space Explorers stuck in my imagination…largely for the beautiful imagery and background music Clayton and Ladd chose. One of the films they used was a Czech Russian educational film titled, Universe, which lent The Space Explorers some absolutely riveting (to my pre-school eyes) artwork of the stars, planets and moons. I have tried for years to get a copy of the whole, thing, but I suspect all the various copyrights to all the pieces Clayton and Ladd used to make The Space Explorers are just too hard to get all in a row and still make it worthwhile to put on DVD. But I am stumbling across more and more of the parts on YouTube now, and what’s impressive to me at age 55, is how detailed my memory of that cartoon serial was, compared with other things I watched from that period in my life.

In my scrap books are some of my earliest sketches and drawings and that little art deco spaceship is there among them. I tried for years to find a model of it somewhere. Finally, a small enthusiast shop, Fantastic Plastic, has come out with a model you can build. If this is the sort of thing that strikes your fancy, then you might want to explore their online catalog, as it is full of all sorts of spacecraft, well known and obscure, from science-fiction films past and present. I ordered two…one for practice since I haven’t built a model anything in years. For most of the 1980s I worked as a freelance architectural model maker and built custom models of new buildings and parks from scratch. So I’m not entirely without some skills in that regard. But by now they’re probably very rusty. The kits came in the mail last week and unpacking them, and examining the pieces, I could feel the seven year old boy inside of me get all wide-eyed and excited again.

I won’t paint them quite like I see in the shots on the Fantastic Plastic page, but it’ll be close. I want to try for an effect that’s more like smooth aluminum metal then silver paint. That’s what’s going to take some time investigating and practicing and why I bought two kits instead of just one. And the windows should look like they’re being illuminated from within, not dark. But as I can’t install lights in this thing that’ll be a trick to accomplish with paint. But with the right touch of the brush I think I can do it. Eventually one is going down in the art room, and the other in my office at Space Telescope. I’ll post some shots of the finished work here.

One more thing: As I was composing this post, I decided I wanted to include a scan of that old book on stars mom gave me back in my pre-school days, because it was one of those small but important things, a touchstone, for the direction my life would eventually take. I’ve said before that I was blessed in a way, to have entered school shortly after Sputnik scared the hell out of The U.S., because suddenly there was an emphasis on getting America’s youth a good science education. When I went to scan the book, I took another look at the back cover. Here it is…

Starbook - back

Each guide has been written by an outstanding authority on science education… A lot of the information in that book, printed in 1956, is dated now. But the spirit is even more relevant now after decades of republican party and religious right assaults on science, reason and knowledge, then it was even at the height of the cold war. Science is not a dry collection of facts on display in a museum or a textbook. Science is a way of knowledge, where knowledge is understood to be something you actively discover, not something you passively receive. A science textbook is not a bible. It is not a political diatribe. It Wants to be challenged. You are Supposed to have questions when you finish it. And you are supposed to be unafraid to ask them.

My little golden book of stars. A relic of the cold war. It was a time in America of stifling, absolutely stifling conformity. But for a moment, for one brief and shining moment, the nation understood clearly, in the shadow of a nuclear, not biblical Armageddon, that the way you fight totalitarianism is by teaching your young to how to think for themselves, and that the pursuit of knowledge is a great adventure.

by Bruce | Link | React!

November 16th, 2008

The Human Nervous System Is A Pretty Damn Impressive Thing

Via Scientific American…  It’s not only our brains that make us stand out from the rest of the critters here on planet Earth.  Brains actually receive a lot of pre-processed input.  Turns out our auditory system has a few neat tricks of its own too…

Why Dogs Don’t Enjoy Music

Anyone with normal hearing can distinguish between the musical tones in a scale: do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do. We take this ability for granted, but among most mammals the feat is unparalleled.

This finding is one of many insights into the remarkable acuity of human hearing garnered by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, reported in January in the journal Nature.

The study revealed that groups of exquisitely sensitive neurons exist along the auditory nerve on its way from the ear to the auditory cortex. In these neurons natural sounds, such as the human voice, elicit a completely different and far more complex set of responses than do artificial noises such as pure tones. In this mixed environ­ment humans can easily detect frequencies as fine as one twelfth of an octave—a half step in musical terminology.

The vexing question is: Why? Bats are the only mammal with a better ability to hear changes in pitch than humans do. Predatory species such as dogs are not nearly as sensitive—they can dis­criminate resolutions of one third of an octave. Even our primate relatives do not come close: macaques can resolve only half an octave. These results suggest the fine discrimination of sound is not a necessity for survival.

More likely, the researchers speculate, humans use their fine hearing to facilitate working memory and learning capa­bilities, but more research is needed to explore this puzzle.

I have a strong hunch about that.  It isn’t memory and learning.  It’s communication.  Speech.  Try this sometime while listening to people around you chatting: try to ignore the words and just listen to the sounds of the voices as if you were listening to birds, or dogs or some other animals.  Humans have an Amazing range of vocalizations.  You think birds are good at it, but compared to humans birds are johnny one-notes.  Think of how much information is conveyed by tone of voice alone, in a conversation. 

Consider the sentence "The cow jumped over the moon".  A human speaking those words could convey astonishment or indifference or anger or fear simply by how they inflect the speaking of that string of words.  Just by slightly changing the inflection on the word "moon" you can change the sentence from a statement into a question.  It’s not just cadence.  It’s tone.  The better you can decode tone, the better you can tell what other people mean…how they feel…the better you can grasp what is being said.  And not only that, but the greater becomes the potential bandwidth of communication.  Because now information can be carried by both words and tone of voice.

Tone is the first language we have.  Human infants don’t do words.  They do coos and gurgles and squeals and cries.  A human sitting not far from a baby knows exactly how it’s feeling by all the little non-verbal vocalizations it’s making.  Is it content?  Is it delighted?  Is it curious?  Is it upset?  Does it need its diapers changed?  It needs to tell you these things and it can’t if it has to use words it hasn’t had time to learn yet.  But as we grow older, we don’t discard the language of tone.  In fact, it grows and develops along with us.  We learn to use it better…more deftly…just like we do our verbal languages.  How much is conveyed by lovers to one another, simply by a sigh?  And the longer a couple has been together, the more intimately they learn each other’s tone signals.  Like music, how the words are spoken goes right to the heart.

That’s why we evolved the more highly attenuated detection of tone.  It’s a communication thing.  The bigger brain needed it.  Words alone weren’t enough.  And I’ll bet this is why music affects us so profoundly, yet so irrationally.  Recall this from the article… 

In these neurons natural sounds, such as the human voice, elicit a completely different and far more complex set of responses than do artificial noises such as pure tones.

Music isn’t pure tones though.  Not even minimalist scores like those of Philip Glass.  A gathering of instruments in an orchestra, or even a single instrument playing a melody all by itself, produces a complex layering of tones that I’ll bet hits those neuron in just the same way.  It Is communication, but a different kind.  It’s communication that goes right past the logical analytical brain with its ear for words, to the heart, which listens to tones.  Tone was the first language.

The stereotype of our pre-human ancestors is that they communicated in simple grunts and barks.  Perhaps.  But even without language yet, those vocalizations may have carried a lot of information in them simply by tone alone.  Language evolved from those vocalizations, and gave them more precision, because the growing brain needed that.  But as our capacity for language developed and grew, so did our capacity to decode tone, because that was also a channel of communication.  But they’re different channels.  The logical rational brain likes words.  The emotional intuitive brain responds to tone.  When interacting with others, the one who can decode both those things best has a big advantage. 

So Orpheus probably didn’t tame the savage beasts by the sound of his lyre, because the beasts are mostly tone deaf.  But the beast within…yeah.  Absolutely.  Here’s an experiment: Humans that are tone deaf, or who have difficulty decoding tone…how well do they interact socially?

[Edited a bit more then a tad…]

by Bruce | Link | React! (2)

August 11th, 2008

And Now…A Wee Moment Of Species Pride…

I’m copying the following from Brad DeLong’s blog comments in their entirety.  Some days you read the news and you just want to write off the human race altogether.  When those moments hit you, it’s good to be able to keep things in perspective…

Hoisted from Comments: The Dawn of Humanity

Grasping Reality with Both Hands: Brad DeLong’s Semi-Daily Journal: The Dawn of Humanity: What astonishes me is the speed. They’ve got the origin date at -56,000, and the oldest modern human remains in Australia are -40,000. The route from East Africa across Asia to Northern Australia is 10K+ miles, which means humans were expanding at close to a mile a year. That’s just unbelievably fast.

We have all sorts of branches of homo surviving stably for a million plus years all over africa, asia, and europe, and this new branch comes out of Africa and by the end of the Great Migration, only a little over ten thousand years later, they are building boats to sail to Australia. And wiping out or out-competing every one of our homo sibling species on the way.

The Singularity is truly in our past.

Posted by: tavella | January 23, 2007 at 05:15 PM

Here’s a link, in case you’re wondering about that reference to "The Singularity".  It was coined mostly to refer to advances in machine intelligence, but others have co-opted the term to refer to where the acceleration of change reaches a point where humanity itself simply becomes unrecognizable from anything we once were.  Those ancient branches of the humanoid family tree, long gone now, would certainly never comprehend us now, but they probably didn’t back when we first emerged, and they first laid eyes on us.

We can do this…we can survive.  We can endure.  We can find our way to the stars.  Maybe it’ll take another ten thousand years.  But we’ll do it.  And in another 56 thousand years they’ll be looking back in amazement at how quickly we did it…

by Bruce | Link | React!

July 24th, 2008

The Difference Between Helping Children And Kicking Them In The Face

PFOX, (Parents and Friends of eX-Gays), would have you believe it’s different from P-FLAG, (Parents and Friends of Gays), in that PFOX supports people who are "struggling with homosexuality" and P-FLAG does not.  But that’s not it. 

Here’s the difference:

Anti-Gay Distortions of Research

Take a look at this story at OneNewsNow, which begins:

Quoting a recent study, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) is warning of the increased risk of suicide that is linked with young people who identify themselves as homosexuals before achieving full maturity — a process encouraged by many homosexual high school clubs.

The study in question, as it turns out, is a seventeen year old work published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, back in June 1991.  Not exactly recent…but never mind.  What PFOX is saying there is that supporting gay teens as they come out to themselves puts them at risk of suicide.  Their solution?   

Schools should not be encouraging teens to self-identify as gays, bisexuals or transgendered persons before they have matured. Sexual attractions are fluid and do not take on permanence until early adulthood. Rather than affirming teenagers as ‘gay’ through self-labeling, educators should affirm them as people worthy of respect and encourage teens to wait until adulthood before making choices about their sexuality. If teens are encouraged to believe that they are permanently ‘gay’ before they have had a chance to reach adulthood, their life choices are severely restricted and can result in depression.

So says PFOX Executive Director Regina Griggs.  Note the doublespeak there about affirming them as "people worthy of respect".  But how much respect is it, to tell a kid gay kid they don’t have to be gay if they don’t want to?  Look again, at what came slyly out of the other side of her mouth there…

Sexual attractions are fluid and do not take on permanence until early adulthood.

Thats religious rightspeak for There Is No Such Thing As A Homosexual.  Don’t believe me?  Look again…

If teens are encouraged to believe that they are permanently ‘gay’ before they have had a chance to reach adulthood, their life choices are severely restricted and can result in depression

Permanently ‘gay’.  Note both the quotes around the word gay and the word permanently preceding it.  You don’t have to be gay if you don’t want to.  Change is possible.  This is what PFOX wants teachers to tell the gay kids that come out to them, and/or to their peers.  Griggs is sliding that under the radar their, in a cotton candy cloud of PFAUX respect.  But in today’s hostile school environment, where the word Gay has itself become a generic put-down among school kids, a kid who comes out, almost certainly already knows how impossible change actually is for them.

And that has consequences.

But leaving aside the fact that a 17 year old study was cited as "recent" and was cited as evidence against the existence of GSA clubs, which didn’t exist at the time of the study, this argument also makes a causal claim that can’t be justified by the study itself (see the full text of the study here).

First of all, they make no distinction at all between correlation and causation. If a higher percentage of those who self-identify as gay or bisexual early attempt suicide compared to those who self-identify later, is that a causal relationship or might both factors be effects of some other cause? Griggs makes no attempt to analyze this, it is enough for her that there is a correlation.

It never occurs to Griggs that those who attempt suicide soon after self-identifying as gay do so because that is when they first become aware that their identity is in such stark conflict with societal expectations. As any gay person can tell you, the initial coming out period is the most difficult because it often leads to serious conflicts with friends and family (and that was even more true in 1991 than it is today). She also ignores all of the other far more important risk factors that are obviously more likely to be causal. The study notes:

In 44% of cases, subjects attributed suicide attempts to "family problems," including conflict with family members and parents’ marital discord, divorce, or alcoholism. One third of attempts were related to personal or interpersonal turmoil regarding homosexuality. Almost one third of subjects made their first suicide attempt in the same year that they identified themselves as bisexual or homosexual. Overall, three fourths of all first attempts temporally followed self-labeling. Other common precipitants were depression (30%), conflict with peers (22%), problems in a romantic relationship (19%), and dysphoria associated with personal substance abuse (15%).

There are far more serious risk factors for suicide in the study, all of which are ignored by Griggs and PFOX. For instance, 61% of those who attempt suicide were sexually abused, while only 29% of those who did not attempt suicide were sexually abused. There’s an obvious causal factor. Those who attempted suicide also reported much higher rates of friendship loss due to being gay, drug use and having been arrested. Again, these are far more rationally viewed as causal factors in suicide than the age at which one self-identifies. Griggs ignores all of this because it doesn’t fit her ideological preferences.

But to call it ‘ideological’ ennobles it.  This isn’t ideology, it’s hate.  A hate so bottomless it will cheerfully let children kill themselves rather then allow them to have the support they need at that critical moment in their lives.  What Griggs is saying there to kids, stripped of its PFAUX respect, is that thinking you are gay will make you kill yourself.  That is, seriously, the message they want kids who are just coming into puberty and feeling same sex desire for the first time in their lives to hear, and internalize.  These feelings are going to make me kill myself.  And when they can’t stop themselves from having those feelings, feelings they’ve never had before, feelings that seem to come out of nowhere whenever an attractive classmate walks by, feelings that they have no control over whatsoever, what do you think is going to happen?

Here’s what: Griggs will cheerfully blame those of us who want gay kids to feel good about themselves when those kids take Griggs message, that thinking you are gay makes you want to kill yourself, to heart and actually do it. 

And there is the essential difference between P-FLAG and PFOX.  One group supports gay people.  The other, ex-gays.  And it doesn’t get any more ex then dead.

[Edited a tad for clarity…] 

by Bruce | Link | React! (6)

February 7th, 2008

There Is No Free Launch

So some guy is tinkering with magnetic motor design, when suddenly his magnets go flying everywhere around his workshop.  He thereupon concludes that he’s invented a perpetual motion machine.

First…let’s review: The three laws of thermodynamics are:

  1. The total energy of a closed system neither increases nor decreases.
  2. The entropy of that system always increases.
  3. The temperature of that system cannot ever reach absolute zero, because entropy cannot decrease.

That last one is a little tricky, but visualize it as, the heat has to go somewhere and it can’t go from a colder body to a hotter body.

Anyway…  No:

‘Holy crap, this is really scary,’ inventor says of strange phenomenon

It all began back in 1985, when Thane Heins, having studied electronics at Heritage College in Gatineau, Quebec, started thinking about how magnets could be used to improve power generators.

Heins tinkered away, making what seemed like good progress, until one day in early 2006 he stumbled on to something strange. As part of a test, he had connected the driveshaft of an electric motor to a steel rotor with small round magnets lining its outer edges. The idea was that as the rotor spun, the magnets would pass by a wire coil placed just in front of them to generate electrical energy – in other words, it would operate like a simple generator.

The voltage was there, but to get current he had to attach an electrical load to the coil – like a light bulb – or simply overload it, which would cause it to slow down and eventually stop. Heins did the latter, but instead of stopping, the rotor started to rapidly accelerate.

"The magnets started flying off and hitting the wall, and I had to duck for cover," says Heins, surprised because he was using a weak motor. "It was like, holy crap, this is really scary."

Days later, Heins realized what had happened…

Uh, oh…  

…The steel rotor and driveshaft had conducted the magnetic resistance away from the coil and back into the heart of the electric motor. Since such motors work on the principle of converting electrical energy into motion by creating rotating magnetic fields, he figured the Back EMF was boosting those fields, causing acceleration.

But how could this be? It would create a positive feedback loop. As the motor accelerated faster it would create a larger electromagnetic field on the generator coil, causing the motor to go faster, and so on and so on. Heins confirmed his theory by replacing part of the driveshaft with plastic pipe that wouldn’t conduct the magnetic field. There was no acceleration.

"What I can say with full confidence is that our system violates the law of conservation of energy," he says.

Ummm, probably…not.  At a guess, the current he was trying to overload the rotor with shorted back into the motor causing it to spin faster.  The plastic pipe after all, could not conduct electricity either.  But I’ll leave it to the engineers to explain some day, if this guy ever tries to sell his idea to investors.  Look…the fact is that people have been trying to invent perpetual motion machines for millennia and the reason why they never work is because the very fabric of this universe just doesn’t function that way.

There’s another way of expressing the three laws:

  1. You can’t win.
  2. You can’t break even.
  3. You can’t leave the game.

I’ve always found it more then a little amusing, that at the heart of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, there is a perpetual motion machine.  It’s really amazing how often the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps free-the-marketplace right tries to get its free lunch.

by Bruce | Link | React!

January 22nd, 2008

What They’ve Always Tried To Keep Us From Knowing…

…not heterosexuals, mostly…but us.  This is what they never wanted us to know…

Same-sex pairs ‘equally committed’

Same-sex couples are just as committed in their romantic relationships as heterosexual couples, according to a report.

The finding disputes the stereotype that couples in same-sex relationships are not as committed as their heterosexual counterparts and therefore not as psychologically healthy.

The study examined whether committed same-sex couples differed from engaged and married opposite-sex couples in how well they interacted and how satisfied they were with their partners.

Researchers from the University of Illinois compared 30 committed gay male and 30 committed lesbian couples with 50 engaged heterosexual couples and 40 older married heterosexual couples, as well as with dating heterosexual couples.

Results of a questionnaire and a laboratory task showed that same-sex relationships were similar to those of opposite-sex couples in many ways.

All had positive views of their relationships but those in the more committed relationships (gay and straight) resolved conflict better than the heterosexual dating couples.

The notion that committed same-sex relationships are "atypical, psychologically immature, or malevolent contexts of development was not supported by our findings," said lead author Glenn I. Roisman.

"Compared with married individuals, committed gay males and lesbians were not less satisfied with their relationships."

And he added: "Gay males and lesbians in this study were generally not different from their committed heterosexual counterparts on how well they interacted with one another, although some evidence emerged the lesbian couples were especially effective at resolving conflict."

Yeah…male ego…  But still.  It’s possible.  It can happen.  To us too.  That’s what they never wanted us to know…

The study features in the January issue of Developmental Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.

by Bruce | Link | React!

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