Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Rain and Wind in Morro Bay


Morro Bay has a very dry climate. We only get rain a few times a year. Today it is raining cats and dogs. This kind of rain brings back a lot of rainy images to my brain.

Riding the Greyhound bus back to Stony Brook School every Fall as a teenager.. green farms and grey skies and steady rain. A country so large it took four days and four nights non-stop (except for potty breaks of course, and brief flings at fast food) to get from the Imperial Valley desert of California to the bus station in NYC.

Pouring rain in Kansas, trapped in my small room with no escape.


Standing on the pier in Seal Beach, CA., in a rainstorm that shredded my umbrella, in awe at the power of the storm and wind.

I guess I should welcome the rain, with California in the n'th year of a drought, and with the underbrush dry as tinder and ready to explode in firestorms at the merest flick of a lighted cigarette.

I couldn't live in Seattle or Oregon with all the steady rain and growing molds.

The bright side of today's life is that even when trapped inside your room by rain, the world of ideas and physics is microseconds away via broadband internet. Except for the crash of the electrical power system, which just interrupted this post for 1.3 hours.


When the power has been on, I've been enjoying the vigorous discussions by Sean Carroll, LuboŇ° Motl, and Peter Woit about string theory, the anthropic principle, and the importance of "not giving up".

LuboŇ° Motl is in general tearing up the blog world with long interesting comments and strong points of view about a lot of current physics.

This is the kind of rapid and open exchange of ideas that may revolutionize the world of science.

Thursday, October 14, 2004


Thanks again to Shirley (see last post) for passing on this funny stuff:

Contest in the Washington Post where readers were asked to tell Gen Xers how much harder you had it in the old days:

Second Runner-Up:
In my day, we couldn't afford shoes, so we went barefoot. In the winter we had to wrap our feet with barbed wire for traction. (Bill Flavin, Alexandria)

First Runner-Up:
In my day we didn't have MTV or in-line skates, or any of that stuff. No, it was 45s and regular old metal-wheeled roller skates, and the 45s always skipped, so to get them to play right you'd weigh the needle down with something like quarters, which we never had because our allowances were way too small, so we'd use our skate keys instead and end up forgetting they were taped to the record player arm so that we couldn't adjust our skates, which didn't really matter because those crummy metal wheels would kill you if you hit a pebble anyway, and in those days roads had real pebbles on them, not like today. (Russell Beland, Springfield)

And the winner of the velour bicentennial poster:
In my day, we didn't have no rocks. We had to go down to the creek and wash our clothes by beating them with our heads. (Barry Blyveis, Columbia)

Honorable Mentions:
In my day, we didn't have dogs or cats. All I had was Silver Beauty, my beloved paper clip. (Jennifer Hart, Arlington)

In my day, we didn't have days. There was only "time for work," "time for prayer" and "time for sleep." The sheriff would go around and tell everyone when to change. (Elden Carnahan, Laurel)

In my day, people could only dream of hitchhiking a ride on a comet. (David Ronka, Charlottesville)

In my day, we didn't have hand-held calculators. We had to do addition on our fingers. To subtract, we had to have some fingers amputated. (Jon Patrick Smith, Washington)

In my day, we didn't have mouses to move the cursor around. We only had the arrows, and if the up arrow was broken and you needed to get to the top of the screen, well, you just hit the left arrow a thousand times, dadgummit. (Kevin Cuddihy, Fairfax)

In my day, we didn't get that disembodied, slightly ticked-off voice saying 'Doors closing.' We got on the train, the doors closed, and if your hand was sticking out it scraped along the tunnel all the damn way to the Silver Spring station and it was a bloody stump at the end. But the base fare was only a dollar. (Russell Beland, Springfield)

In my day, we didn't have water. We had to smash together our own hydrogen and oxygen atoms. (Diana Hugue, Bowie)

In my day, we didn't have Strom Thurmond. Oh, wait. Yes we did... (Peg Sheeran, Vienna)

Kids today think the world revolves around them. In my day, the sun revolved around the world, and the world was perched on the back of a giant tortoise. (Jonathan Paul, Garrett Park)

In my day, we wore our pants up around our armpits. Monstrous wedgies, but we looked snappy. (Bruce Evans, Washington)

In the old days, nobody asked you to sign petitions. The sheriff just came to your house and told you that you was part of a posse. (Barry Blyveis, Columbia)

Back in my day, "60 Minutes" wasn't just a bunch of gray-haired liberal 80-year-old guys. It was a bunch of gray-haired liberal 60-year-old guys. (Russell Beland, Springfield, and Jerry Pannullo, Kensington)

In my day, we didn't have virtual reality. If a one-eyed razorback barbarian warrior was chasing you with an ax, you just had to hope you could outrun him. (Sarah M. Wolford, Hanover)

Wednesday, October 13, 2004


Thanks to Shirley (fellow member of our San Luis Obispo bookclub: the LitWits) for giving me a clue about a great new technology. (Apologies to the true author; this has to have gone around the internet a million times, but it is bound to be new for someone!!)

A look into the future....


Announcing the new Built-in Orderly Organized Knowledge device (BOOK). It's a revolutionary breakthrough in technology: no wires, no electric circuits, no batteries, nothing to be connected or switched on. It's so easy to use even a child can operate it. Compact and portable, it can be used anywhere--even sitting in an armchair by the fire--yet it is powerful enough to hold as much information as a CD-ROM disk.

Here's how it works: Each BOOK is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper, each capable of holding thousands of bits of information. These pages are locked together with a custom-fit device called a binder that keeps the sheets in their correct sequence. The user scans each sheet optically, registering information directly into
his or her brain. A flick of the finger takes the user to the next sheet.

The BOOK may be taken up at any time and used by merely opening it. The "browse" feature allows the user to move instantly to any sheet and to move forward or backward as desired. Most BOOKs come with an "index" feature that pinpoints the exact location of any selected information for instant retrieval. An optional "BOOKmark" accessory allows the user to open the BOOK to the exact place left in a previous session--even if
the BOOK has been closed. BOOKmarks fit universal design standards; thus a single BOOKmark can be used in BOOKs by various manufacturers.

Portable, durable, and affordable, the BOOK is the entertainment wave of the future, and many new titles are expected soon, due to the surge in popularity of its programming tool, the Portable Erasable-Nib Cryptic Intercommunication Language Stylus...ie: (PENCILS).

Saturday, October 02, 2004

On Belief, Faith, and Reason

Walter Kaufmann on Belief, Faith, and Reason, from his book:
Critique of Religion and Philosophy, Harper & Bros., N.Y., 1958

This book was the most influential source for an attack on the
culture of faith and belief in which I was raised as a child. "When
I was a child, I thought as a child, but..."

From Sect. 22, a poem:


What is truth? Something of which we rarely speak;
something some men seek;
something flouted by those who lie;
something of which Christ said, it is I;
something without which one goes to hell;
something judges expect one to tell;
a word of honor, a word of praise,
but not a very transparent phrase.

Truth does not exist, it is merely discussed,
but truth is whatever we can trust,
whether a man or a piece of gold,
a Titian or something we are told,
a likeness or something we are taught--
and the noun, the truth, is an afterthought.

Selected quotes from Sect. 36:

"Knowledge and belief, like most interesting terms, have many correct uses, and no distinction is likely to do perfect justice to all correct uses"

"Belief has a wider sense in which it includes knowledge and a narrower sense in which it is contrasted with knowledge."

"When I say that I know that a proposition is true, I say that I think that it is true; that in fact it is true; and that there is evidence sufficient to compel the assent of every reasonable person. When I am asked whether I really know, the question does not concern myself alone ( my earnestness or sincerity ) but also the evidence."

"Belief in the narrow sense, in which it is contrasted with knowledge, is distinguished by the lack of evidence sufficient to compel the assent of every reasonable person."

"Faith is belief - usually belief in the narrow sense - that is held intensely, with some emotional involvement; and almost all statements that begin 'I have faith that...' fulfill one further condition: one would be disappointed if one should be wrong"

"...for those engaged in an impartial investigation, a man's faith creates no presumption whatsoever of a higher probability; on the contrary, it is more suspicious than a less emotional belief. It raises the question whether there is considerable, albeit not compelling, evidence, or whether 'faith' is but a noble word for wishful thinking."

Selected quotes from Sect. 37:

"The impression given is sometimes, in contemporary discussions, too, that there is a virtue in believing without evidence as such. But this would open the floodgates to every superstition, prejudice, and madness."

"To be sure, we must constantly act in the absence of complete certainty; we have to make decisions on the basis of partial evidence; and we are bound to make mistakes frequently. Challenged why we decide the way we do, we should cite the evidence we had in mind....There is no need for the faith that we surely must be right. We need believe no more than that, given our present information, this or that appears to be most probable"

"It is a widespread fallacy that the alternative to the firm faith that we possess the truth must be weak indecision. It is quite possible to act with vigor, realizing that one might be wrong; especially, if one is sustained by the assurance that one's decision was conscientiously arrived at and that one is acting with integrity, though not infallibility."

Quoting Santayana: "If the argument is rather that these beliefs, whether true or false, make life better in this world, the thing is simply false. To be boosted by an illusion is not to live better than to live in harmony with the truth; it is not nearly so safe, not nearly so sweet, and not nearly so fruitful. These refusals to part with a decayed illusion are really an infection to the mind. Believe, certainly; we cannot help believing; but believe rationally, holding what seems certain for certain, what seems probable for probable, what seems desirable for desirable, and what seems false for false"

Two quotes from Martin Luther: (Samtliche Schriften; ed. Johann Georg Walch; 24 vols.; printed in Halle, Germany, in the 18th century, and reprinted in St. Louis 1881-1910)

"There is on earth among all dangers no more dangerous thing than a richly endowed and adroit reason, especially if she enters into spiritual matters which concern the soul and God. For it is more possible to teach an ass to read than to blind such a reason and lead it right; for reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed." (V, 1312)

"Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason." (V, 425 )

and one from Nietzsche:

"A very popular error: having the courage of one's convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one's convictions!"

And a reminder of my origins:

last judgement painting
The Last Judgement