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.

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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So what if you killed the planet?

The rainforests of Brazil are up for grabs, literally. Ranchers, gold miners and anyone who wants to make a quick buck head for the hills. No one will stop you. The president pledged a loosening of environmental restrictions. In reality, he eliminated them. The plumes of smoke from people burning the rainforest are visible from the space station with the naked eye.

Why is this bad? Don’t people need to earn a living? Brazilian scientists monitoring the devastation measure about 2,400 square miles of illegal burning last year and 3,600 square miles this year. All together, that’s a square of about 80 miles on each side. The devastation continues.

The planet, and all human life depends upon the rainforests for several things, 1 as a carbon sink where CO2 from the atmosphere is rapidly taken up into plants to become “biomass.” 2 as an oxygen source. In a big sense, the rainforests are the lungs of our planet. And 3 as a source of atmospheric moisture. Moisture from Brazil become rain in North America. But political expediency has now given our planet emphysema. Instead of breathing, the rainforest is belching out more CO2 as trees and plants are burned to clear land.

It is a global outrage. The only purpose of this destruction is to keep one autocratic politician in power. When a sovereign nation holds a major portion of vital resources for life on the planet, we may need to reconsider our notions of sovereignty.



Our Worldview is Conditioned by the Human Condition

Some species of birds have four color receptors in their retinas instead of three like most mammals and humans. These receptors process light in the ultraviolet spectrum that is invisible to humans. Since fructose and sucrose sugars have big peaks in their UV spectra, this gives me a clue why birds can watch our grape crop and know exactly the morning of peak ripeness (sugar concentration) of the grapes. The birds have additional information that humans don’t (at least visually), and they use it to their advantage.


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