Science and Technology Blog
This blog contains articles about science, technology and a life of faith.  Written by the rector of Grace, these articles first appeared as the trailer articles in the Weekly Grace email newsletter.

Eight Inches

Imagine for a moment that the earth was reduced to the size of a basketball. Now imagine that part of the planet on/in which we “live and move and have our being.” Although the atmosphere gets very thin the higher you go, let’s consider the heights of aircraft at around 10 miles in altitude or 50,000 feet as the top. Then consider the bottom of ocean trenches at around 5-7 miles deep. From the height of aircraft to the bottom of the ocean is a layer of about 15-17 miles on a planet with a radius almost 4,000 miles.


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My Back Pages

In the late 60s, the Byrds recorded a Bob Dylan song whose refrain reminds of a recent gedanken (thought) experiment proposed by physicists at Dartmouth and Santa Clara University. The line from the song is “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” I commend the rest of the song and the lyrics to you as it is as timely today as in 1968. But I digress.


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Disinformation

All kinds of processes have some form of bias either inherent to the thing observed or introduced externally.  One job of a scientist is to analyze the bias and try to remove it from the experiment or theory in progress.  Clergy and theologians (and politicians) should be charged with this task as well, but, like Baruch Spinoza, I see way too many examples where clergy create or exploit bias for their own benefit.


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Imagine This

Imagine the following conversation between a physician and your family. The situation is that grandma is dying. She has stage 4 metastatic cancer spread over her vital organs. She has emphysema from decades of smoking. She is obese and diabetic. The cancer in her brain has produced dementia. Her breathing has slowed to the occasional big sigh followed by nothing. Every time the family thinks it is her last breath. The smell in the room is unmistakable.


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Trees

In my twenties, while in graduate school, I took a six-week trip paddling canoes with five other colleagues to the Arctic Circle. I will never forget the first week or so where, in the pristine wilderness of central Canada, we heard nothing but chain saws during the long arctic daylight. The rivers had a buffer of several hundred yards where trees could not be felled, but beyond that zone, it was cut cut cut. One Sunday edition of the New York Times requires five acres of Canadian pine woods to print.


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The Canary in the Coalmine

I don’t know if miners really used caged birds to warn of oxygen depletion in mines or whether the idea is apocryphal. Since politics has prevailed over sensible science lately by curtailing COVID-19 test increases, we need a canary. At the University of Arizona recently, the canary of COVID testing turned out to be sewage.


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Solving Interesting Problems

There is a new kind of computer being developed these days that is unlike any computer ever built. All modern computers are just bigger, faster and, smaller variations of the Von Neuman vacuum tube behemoths of the late 1940s. But the new kid on the block is a “Quantum Computer” that runs near absolute zero (-459 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature and whose small number of bits can each represent many possible states at the same time. A random number problem solved by IBM’s largest conventional supercomputer in sixty hours was solved by Google’s twelve-bit quantum computer in three minutes!


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Plastics II

I have said this before, but it bears repeating, humans do not “consume” anything. We are not “consumers.” We only transform things. In biological systems, one organism’s waste is another organism’s energy source (food). In our natural world, the end metabolic process of plants is carbohydrates and oxygen which are the input energy sources for animal metabolism. In turn, animals pump out carbon dioxide and protein or various nitrogenous outputs which then become inputs for plants.  Natural systems are said to be “closed loop” because everything is recycled. There is no “waste.” Natural systems are beautiful.


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Extinction Level Events

The 1998 movie, “Deep Impact” had one scientist confused that another colleague was obsessed with an extramarital affair involving a person named “Ele.” Surprise, Ele, turned out to be an acronym for “Extinction Level Event” and the stage was set for drama.


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Apologetics

Wikipedia defines this term as: “Apologetics (from Greek ἀπολογία, “speaking in defense”) is the religious discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse”. In the 20th century, C. S. Lewis was one of the best-known Christian apologists. An Oxford professor of classics, Lewis knew a thing or two. His Narnia chronicles portray the Christian gospel through the lives of sentient animals in a make-believe land of Narnia. While critics may deride Christianity itself as make-believe, Lewis’ Narnia helps people understand the fundamental Christian teachings in a familiar way through storytelling.
 

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