April 7th, 2014


A Terrible Remembrance

How does one observe 9/11?

It's a question that I ask every September. We haven't yet made it a day off. It's not a holiday. We don't celebrate 9/11 in America. We remember. We commemorate. It's a remembrance day.

Those of us old enough to have significant memories about the events of 2001 may pause on 9/11 to remember. To note the passage from a beautiful blue sky tranquil Monday to a terrible fearful Tuesday. Others remember their loved ones, friends and acquaintances who died, perhaps in the line of duty or maybe just in the midst of going about their lives.

Some people rail against our enemies, both real and perceived, and promise the wrath of America. Some rail against our wrath. Some seek peace.

Some complain that unless you suffered a direct loss -- or were in the middle of the chaos or had singed papers falling on you -- that you should just shut up. Some use 9/11 as their flogging boy to advance their political agendas.

What we don't do a lot of is forgiveness.

Then there's Rwanda.

As is typical of events Not In America, and especially events in Third World Africa, I don't know a lot about Rwanda. I remember the news events at the time, at least the scant coverage given. I saw Hotel Rwanda, which gives a movie-eye version of history, one more visceral and visual than truly educational.

Piecing together what I heard twice on NPR this morning, on April 7th twenty years ago, the President of Rwanda's plane was shot down, the opening salvo in a hundred days of terror as one group of people attacked another group of people speaking the same language and with the same religion, with the goal of achieving a genocide of more than a million dead.

It didn't happen in America. It didn't happen in real-time on the news in America. To be blunt, to most Americans it made no sense -- black people killing black people. Or just people killing people. With machetes. Sometimes in their own families. Spouses. Children.

Today is Remembrance Day in Rwanda. In a country where people normally don't show emotions, today it is all right to cry... in public.

Remembrance and reconciliation. Such an odd pairing of actions. No, we're not going to forget. But we aren't going to continue the madness and perpetuate the madness and the anger and the boiling pot of violence. I first heard about the concept on a national level in South Africa and simply assumed it would never work. Or maybe after the generals and the disappeared in South America. Cynical, I guess. It's not perfect, but it works. People move on. People speak the truth. People are forgiven.

Today is Remembrance Day in Rwanda. I don't know what it means. I don't know if it works. I don't know if it will continue to work into a far future.

But as awful as the Rwandan genocide was, I am remarkably hopeful about this turn in events. And though "pleased" is the wrong word, I have to put something into a sentence, so I am pleased to live in a world where something like Remembrance Day in Rwanda can occur -- and be taken seriously and solemnly at least by those in Rwanda today.

Perhaps the dead will rest more easily if the living do.

Dr. Phil

COSMOS Watch: Episode 4

Sunday 30 March 2014 21:00 EDT Channel 17.1 (FOX HD)

Alas, I don't have an entry yet for Episode 4 -- we were running late last Sunday and had only sat down to dinner at 9pm, so it's hard to eat and make notes at the same time. Was going to catch the NatGeo rerun on Monday, but I was racing to finish my WOTF story.

Ah time.

The episode was about how damn big the universe is. The story of Herschel, who realized that looking into deep space was looking back in time. Hundreds and thousands of years. It would be a while before we understood it was millions and billions of years. Also, light and gravity and black holes.

I'll catch up with Episode 4 sometime and update this entry -- meanwhile, here's a placeholder.

Dr. Phil

COSMOS Watch: Episode 5

Sunday 6 April 2014 21:00 EDT Channel 17.1 (FOX HD)

I can just hear the clucking head types complain about THIS episode. Making the Arab scientists of a thousand years ago into good guys. What were you thinking? Don't you know there's a war on? Sigh.

And the criticizing in some circles of COSMOS and Neil Degrasse Tyson continues. Who is this astronomer (astrophysicist, actually) who dares to talk outside of his field? He can't talk about X, Y or Z! As if those complaining actually LISTENED to scientists in X, Y and Z -- they just don't want anyone talking about evolution. Or what we're made of, etc.

-- Going straight into Opening Credits. Are they no longer doing a teaser introduction? Or is our station just not carrying it? Or was that just the first episode? Don't know.

-- The age and size of the cosmos are written in light.

-- The beauty of the cosmos and the laws of Physics were always there, until we could unlock the secrets, we didn't see them.

-- Someone long ago looked up to see light perform one of its magic tricks.

-- Anime of light coming through a crack in a cave and flickering an image on a cave wall while an early artist makes a cave painting.

-- Where did this all come from? (shows city) How did we evolve to form civilization?

-- Not one answer. Domestication of fire, etc.

-- Anime: camera obscura in China. Mo Tze, master of light, earliest signs of scientific method.

-- Against Fate, 3 point test.

-- Emperor Chin, for whom China is named, he of the 7000 terra cotta warriors, standardized weights and measures AND philosophy. Legalism.

-- World's 1st book burning. The works of the 100 scholars, including Confucius and Mo Tze. Cannot use history to question authority.

-- Some hid as many books as they could.

-- The Ancient Chinese and Greek knew light could do amazing things.

-- But no one asked Why? The very question of children and geniuses.

-- Basra, Iraq, a thousand years ago.

-- Light rays came out from eyes and reflected back...

-- ... except Al Hassin (?) realized stars too far.

-- Caliphs bought books, collected great institutes of Science.

-- Arabic numbers via India.

-- And zero.

-- "Comes in handy when you are writing 'billions and billions'."

-- Still use the star names in Arabic and the "al" in algebra, etc.

-- Light travels in straight lines, determined by experiment.

-- Need a small opening, an aperture.

-- New camera obscura. Needs a bright light.

-- A telescope uses glass lenses to use a larger opening.

-- Galileo's first telescope of 1609.

-- It has larger lenses than our eyes to collect more light.

-- Ibn Al Hassin's rules. Finding truth is hard. Don't trust in ancient writing. Submit only to argument and experiement. And avoid careless thinking.

-- Science has taken our robot emissaries to end of the solar system and beyond.

-- Doubled our lifespan.

-- We communicate at the speed of light.

-- Light has properties unlike anything else.

-- A photon, particle of light, is born at the speed of light. Nothing else accelerates so fast.

-- Matter can be accelerated up to near, but not AT, the speed of light.

-- I cannot reconcile its properties with everything else.

-- Don't even know why there's a cosmic speed limit.

-- Time stops at the speed of light.

-- Newton born in this house.

-- 1st to figure out the mystery of the rainbow. Split the light with a prism.

I should also point out that Newton ingeniously showed that such split light can be recombined to white light with another prism!

-- Named it the spectrum, Latin for phantom or spectre.

-- But Newton missed looking at the spectrum under magnification to see the secret code of the universe.

-- 100 years later, Herschel.

-- Everyone knows sunlight carries heat.

-- Used thermometers placed under parts of the spectrum to determine whether different colors of light carried more or less heat.

-- The thermometer he place outside the spectrum was the CONTROL.

-- Red light warmer than blue light...

-- ... but the control was warmer yet!

-- Discovered a new unseen type of light.

-- Infrared -- "below red".

-- At same time, young boy Joseph Fraunhoffer, standing over a hot toxic melt of glass.

-- Abused and overworked by owner.

-- Then the owner's house collapsed.

-- The future King Maximilian of Bavaria came to help. Including the boy.

-- But the owner went back to his old ways, until the Prince's aide came by and found the boy wasn't getting the offered education.

-- Plucked out of the glass works and into the Optical Institute, in an old monastery, then the top optical house in the world. In its day, this was top secret high technology.

-- What if we could see sound waves?

-- Organ pipes. Different lengths give different sound waves. (Visualized sound waves in air as if slowed down and we can see them.)

-- Short waves, higher pitch.

-- Distance between wave peaks is the wavelength.

-- Go from simple tunes to Carmen Barada, whose mss. was discovered in same abbey.

-- Light waves even smaller.

-- Fraunhoffer, the top optical man in the world, studying prisms of different materials.

-- In glass, waves change speed, violet more so than red.

-- Fraunhoffer and his theodolite witnessed the marriage of Physics and Astronomy = Astrophysics, my brand of light.

-- Saw dark lines scattered through the spectrum.

-- It takes a hundred years to decipher.

-- Fields of flowers, etc. Beautiful... why?

-- The colors of nature that dazzle us...

(Interrupted by something that had to be dealt with.)

-- To understand we have to go 10B times smaller.

-- Hydrogen is the simplest and most common type of atom.

-- Has one 1 electron and 1 proton.

-- We have entered the quantum realm -- common sense is of no help here.

-- It's as if quantum elevators move the electron and disappear between 2nd and 4th floor.

-- Only certain floors allowed.

-- Every larger orbit takes more energy.

-- To jump up, absorb light of one color.

-- To drop down, emit light of one color, though we don't know why.

-- Dark lines are the shadows of the atoms absorbing the light.

-- Sodium atoms have more electrons and protons, and are more complicated, with more transitions.

-- Iron atoms with 26 electrons and 26 protons. It's light is a musical with big production numbers.

-- Look at light from a star and I can tell you what it's made of.

-- When only 39, Fraunhoffer contracted a fatal illness, possibly from the toxic chemical exposure.

-- His rescue from being an orphan worker may have come too late.

-- They tried to preserve his secret knowledge on his deathbed. Director of the mint was the only person that could be trusted with this information.

-- Perfect optical glass formula kept secret by Bavaria for 100 years.

-- But his scientific work was widely published.

-- Everything is made of the same stuff. The planet, the stars, the galaxies, all of nature and ourselves -- same star stuff.

-- He made it possible to know what's in the atmosphere of a distant planet or star.

-- Spectroscopy.

-- Discovery of The Thing It Cannot See.

-- Universe of dark matter 6X greater than regular matter.

-- Many more kinds of light than we can see.

-- Like listening to music in only 1 octave.

-- In microwave light we can see all the way to the beginning of the universe.

-- (Symphony)

OVERALL: I'm missing a few notes, but it's a nice discussion of how we know what we know. Goes nicely with the previous two episodes. We are building up quite a universe here. (grin)

Dr. Phil

UConn One

#8 Kentucky-54 #7 UConn-60

All those tops seeds and it's 8 versus 7 in the championship game -- first #7 seed to win Men's NCAA Division I basketball tournament.

Actually, we saw little of the game, as we were finishing our taxes. (grin) This is what happens when March Madness bleeds into April. (double-grin)

Tomorrow night, battle of the #1 seeds -- Notre Dame versus UConn.

Can the Huskies make it two?

Dr. Phil