Archive for March, 2009

Happy Pi Day!

March 14, 2009
Pie Are Round!

Pie Are Squared!

A very Happy Pi day for everyone. Of course, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, \pi, has a long and fascinating history, as can also be found here and here. It allows us to easily do useful things with angles, and hence phases for describing waves and much more.

One of the many formulae for computing \pi (as can be found at Wolfram) is:

\pi = 2\sum_{n=0}^{\infty}\frac{n!}{(2n + 1)!!}

Besides being a very cool formula, that was also an excuse to dip my toes into Latex again. It’s been quite a few years since playing with for publishing, so it feels good to have it here on the WordPress blogging engine.

Getting back to \pi, it seems only fitting that this ancient and venerable number have its own day to be remembered. It also seems only right that this day be 3.14. It also seems only fitting that its day be celebrating by eating, what else, pie! Having illustrated one of the formulae for obtaining \pi, I direct your attention to what could appear to be a most excellent way to obtain pie. The Quantum Pontiff has posted a pie recipe which incredibly includes 2 of the major food groups, chocolate and bacon. Being an experimentalist swayed by primarily by evidence, it seems these experimental results will need to be reproduced.

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Where encouragement to think is equated to hatred

March 11, 2009

There was some recent noise last month about the atheist bus ads in Toronto. You may recall that the ads by the Humanists Association of Ottowa state :

There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life,

In response to this rather innocuous expression of doubt and rejoinder to enjoy life, Theresa Milligan states:

When statements are said that God probably does not exist, this is an implied statement of hatred towards all those who do believe that God exists.

Huh? I can’t quite seem to follow the connecting logic here. If I say that Visual Basic is probably not the best programming language to use, am I admitting to an implied hatred of all Visual Basic programmers? If I state that reality is probably best expressed in terms of string theory, am I also saying that I hate all advocates of quantum loop gravity? If I had a child with an imaginary friend, does the realization that the imaginary friend does not exist imply a hatred of my child? Theresa Milligan needs to read up on how critical thinking works. When I, or many others, state that a god or multiplicity of gods, probably does not or do not exist, there is no implication of hatred towards any group that happens to think otherwise. We may think the beliefs are silly and childish, but that is nowhere near being equivalent to hating the people holding the childish beliefs.

Finally, from the article:

Mercier said OC Transpo permits run advertisements informing people of the date, time and place of religious gatherings or events. Ads promoting a specific dogma that might be prejudicial or offensive to other groups using the transit system are not permitted.

I don’t really see how a statement of probability with a possible trigger to think a little bit is a specific dogma. I certainly am not offended when asked to critically examine certain assumptions I may hold. Perhaps encouragement to enjoy life is the dogma to which they are referring? I can see how that could be offensive to say Westboro Baptists and the Phelps clan.

Places to go when visiting Mars

March 9, 2009

As I continue to struggle in which seems to have become a continuous quest to find time to actually write something substantial, crossing my desktop came some interesting thoughts on Mars. You may recall that earlier I wrote about the possibilities of life on Mars earlier. The recent Wired article talks about the suggestion to look into Mt. Olympus as a likely spot in which to find it. From the article:

Using computer simulations, McGovern and Julia Morgan of Rice University determined that the volcano’s strange asymmetry — it has a gently sloped northwest flank and a much steeper southeast side — is the result of what lies beneath it: lava spread unevenly on a slippery surface such as clay, which is deposited by water.

“In order for the volcano to have that unusual shape, you need some sort of low-friction base,” McGovern said.

The same phenomenon happens in some Hawaiian volcanoes that have a clay foundation, McGovern said. And the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft has already detected clay on Mars.

Olympus Mons is about 340 miles wide, so clay beneath it “would correspond to a huge amount of water,” said geochemist Jennifer Blank of the SETI Institute, who was not involved in the study.

And unlike the long-suspected water ice that the Phoenix lander sampled for the first time, if water does exist under Olympus Mons, it could be piping hot. Because the volcano doesn’t show impact craters on a planet that bears many such scars, it was probably actively coating its surface with fresh lava just 10 million or 20 million years ago.

The idea that things could still be warm under Mt. Olympus is still speculation, of course. It would be interesting to try to model this to see how long heat could be retained underneath the surface. After all, the lack of a substantial magnetic field does suggest that the interior is no longer a swirling molten core like we still have on Earth. But if it is still hot there, it could be very similar to the earliest conditions on Earth which gave rise to life.

Anybody up for an exploratory trip?

Kepler takes off

March 7, 2009

In some good news for the week, the Kepler telescope can sent off to orbit into orbit Friday. This space craft will looking at a small section of our galaxy for possible signals of planets orbiting other stars.

Previous searches for planets used the wobble of a starcaused by gravitational pull to infer the presence of a planet. Although very cool, unfortunately, the current precision of such measurements allows only large Jovian sized planets to be discovered with this method. Kepler works by detecting a slight decrease in intensity of the light from the star as a planet passes in front of it. This gives a possibility for detecting smaller planets, possibly earth sized.

From the first link:

The spacecraft will point its unblinking eye at a patch of sky near the constellations Cygnus and Lyra, where it will scan some 100,000 stars for the telltale dip in brightness that signals a planet crossing in front of its parent star as seen from Earth. The tiny “wink” in light that Kepler is designed to measure with its 95 million-pixel camera is comparable to a person trying to watch a flea cross a car’s headlight from miles away, NASA officials have said.

Very cool.

Of course, why go to all this trouble? Since we know from astrology that the forces on us due to planetary influences are distance independent, teams of astrologers ought to be able to infer where all planets are from personality discrepancies or what not. They must already have been sitting on this information for hundreds of years.

Back again and what’s happening

March 5, 2009

Well, it looks like I’m back. We just had a brutal and bloody week with layoffs. Lost a lot of good people, and a lot of experience and knowledge. It was almost like breaking up a family. Somehow I survived, though not happily. Suffice to say I expected to be writing a much different post now, and to have more time to do so.

So, let’s get back up to speed on what’s happening in the world. Rush Limbaugh was blathering on irrelevantly to some Republicans somewhere. Google it if you haven’t heard about it and are interested for some reason.

It looks like California’s Proposition 8 is back in the courts. The argument appears to hinge on whether or not it is an amendment or revision of the state’s constitution.

But Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California, Irvine, predicts the case will turn on whether the court believes Proposition 8 violated the state constitution by skirting the Legislature.

“If it concludes, as I believe it should, that this is a revision, then it is unconstitutional,” Chemerinsky said. “The whole point of a constitution is to limit what the majority can do.”

Rightly said Erwin Chemerinsky. This bigoted monstrosity of legislation, which unnecessarily clamps down on the rights of others which infringe upon no one else, can not be overturned soon enough. It is an embarrassment to my state.

In other news, Jindal, governor of Louisiana, signed a law allowing nonsense to be taught as science in schools. Apparently he is determined to get Louisiana back on track to head to the 12th century and beyond. To send a strong message to Jindal, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology is boycotting Louisiana. A good move, in my opinion. In response, Michael Egnor, the notorious Discovery (of new ways to substitute science with politics) Institutionalist, had some amusing things to say. I highly recommend taking a look for amusement’s sake. Let’s see, we have argumentum ad populum, blah blah blah, and finally “If you don’t stop showing us how we’re wrong, we’re going to take your funding away”. Nice. I would like to point out to Egnor that one reason science gets funding is because it actually gets results. That is already far beyond anything the Deception Discovery Institute has ever done. Well, unless you want to count the results of lost and wasted resources in endless legal battles. Besides, he should be focusing on the next battle between science and his narrowly conceived world view. The failed philosophy of dualism and the fact that the well demonstrated physical basis for the mind has made the soul obsolete. Oh wait, he’s a brain surgeon. In that case, I suggest he read up on compartmentalization, as discussed by Sam Harris in The End of Faith, or perhaps ethics.