Recent Learnings

My family consisting of my wife and me and two adult daughters, were all vaccinated in February as soon as vaccines were available. We were all excited to get it and we have viewed our vaccine status as a kind of imaginary shield against future disease. We were wrong.

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Space Tourism – The Last Frontier for Super-rich Narcissists

Alas, the owner of Amazon will blast into space on his company-built rocket along with his brother and the winner of an online auction. It will be a suborbital, eleven-minute flight like the earliest days of NASA space travel with the Mercury capsules. Other private companies are gearing up for space tourism too. Just imagine the bragging rights at a cocktail party,

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Looking at the Facts Even when it Hurts

The news this week includes the possibility that the Sackler family (owners of Purdue Pharmaceutical which promoted prescriptions of synthetic opioid drugs) will receive immunity from future opioid abuse prosecution in exchange for their donation of about $5 Billion to a fund for victims. Since victims alive today are in the 100,000s range, the “settlement” at most give $10,000 to $50,000 per victim while the Sackler family enjoys the remaining billions they have stashed away in foreign bank accounts. Ill-gotten gains to be sure.

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The Mathematics of Despair and Hope

The following theory is mine alone. Others may have posed similar ideas, but I have never encountered them if they exist. I have been looking at the general ideas behind network theory and “percolation theory.”  In percolation theory, imagine a porous rock containing oil or gas. The network through the rock is the collection of pores or blockages. The oil and gas driller and the mathematician are concerned whether there is a path through the rock to extract the oil contained in it. At the most basic level, networks are just collections of things joined together by something in common. For example, you could have the network of all parents of students at Sally Smith Junior High, or the network of all sparrows in Missouri, or all the people in Tinytown USA who earn $50,000 a year. These are finite networks with a limited number of members of each set. Mathematicians find it much easier to work on infinite sets, but we’ll deal with that later.

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Moore’s Law

In 1965, Gordon Moore, a co-founder of semiconductor chip company Intel, predicted that the number of transistors on a semiconductor chip would double every two years. After a rocky first decade, from 1975 to today, Moore’s Law has held true with a doubling of computer processor speed and memory capacity every two years since 1975. No one knows when Moore’s law will end.  With this as a backdrop, IBM unveiled this week[1] a breathtaking, 2 nanometer chip made in their labs.

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Helium and the Market

Helium, the upper right element on the periodic table. The first of the “rare gases” or “noble gases.”  Helium has two protons, two electrons and two neutrons. Its atomic weight is 4.0026. In case you are wondering, the extra .0026 mass is the rest mass of energy from nuclear spin and nuclear bonds. Pub chem gives us the basic scoop on Helium and compares it to “air” which is a mixture of elements. The most important property for Helium at STP (Standard Temperature and Pressure) is its density which is about 1/8 of air causing a Helium balloon to float in the air. Read more…

The Overview Effect

Ask any astronaut what the most awe-inspiring thing they observed in space and you will be surprised. It is not the utter blackness of outer space punctuated by brilliant points of light that never twinkle. It is not the moonrise or sunrise over the earth, it is in fact, the earth.  Astronauts who are sufficiently awed are said to be subject to the “Overview Effect” which is a cognitive shift in awareness caused by seeing firsthand the earth from outer space.

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Bald Eagles – the Canary in the Ecosystem

This is an update on the Law of Unintended Consequences which may not have originated with Murphy, but he certainly extended the Law into new places. Basically, in any given system, anything that can go wrong will, plus a few others.

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Kekule’s Dream

By the early 1800s, chemists had devised accurate means of determining the molecular weight of a single molecule.  By the mid-1800s, ringed molecules were all the rage. Six-Carbon chains of hexane could be made to join head to tail in a ring (C6H12) called “cyclohexane.” The molecular “weight” of this molecule would be 84. These things bend and fold up like a chair, but they are less interesting in terms of their impact on living things.

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Quick, what denomination is St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland? Anglican, of course. 

Although he was never canonized (declared a saint) by the Roman Catholic Church, St. Patrick was born in England in the fifth century, long before the Church of England and Rome had their differences (ten centuries later). Patrick served as a missionary to Ireland AFTER he had been enslaved by the Irish for six years as a teenager. He became a symbol of sacrificial love for one’s enemies.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, it was Patrick’s monasteries along with those in England that copied and retained ancient manuscripts in Greek, Hebrew, and Coptic. These manuscripts would pave the way for the establishment of European universities in the 13th century and the later movements of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Had the Irish and English monks not slavishly copied manuscripts they could barely read for seven centuries, our modern civilization would not exist.

In reading about Patrick’s life, you will find very little original source, reliable historical information – a problem not much different than the historicity of the bible. Claims whether he was captured by Irish raiders and enslaved or whether he was escaping service on the local town council are debated. Whether he committed some sort of financial impropriety is also debated. It is generally agreed that he founded many monasteries and converted many people from their pagan-Druid beliefs to Christianity.

I appreciate the fact that historians try to determine the facts of things and that the “real” Patrick may have had some issues here and there. But overall, history judges him by the bulk of the good things he did. We should try to do that for modern people as well.