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.

Twin Devils (part 2) – In the Hopeful Season of Advent

In a second scenario, I imagine my teenaged grandchild asking me this question, “Grandpa, you’re a scientist and a priest, what did you do to prevent all those people who deny human-caused climate change from causing all the problems we have today?”   I have mentioned this before, but, at least in one sense, scientists are incredibly conservative.  Why would someone who worked super hard to get to a respected position in the scientific academy be willing to throw all that away in exchange for taking a position that could not be substantiated?  Is it likely that 2,000 scientists from respected universities around the globe all be willing to drink the Kool Aid of public scorn and ridicule?


Essence and Existence

This may be more of a philosophical or metaphysics reflection than anything scientific, so forgive me this once.  Christian views of the afterlife are often viewed by the non-Christian public with scorn, derision and disdain.  The popular, Medieval, view of the afterlife as winged creatures flying around heaven is also unhelpful.  The Greek doctrine of immortality of the soul (Plato) is so thoroughly mixed into Christian belief that most people are surprised that immortality of the soul is not an explicitly “Christian” belief. 


Use less, recycle more, keep things longer

Quick, which is the better course of action.  Repair and continue to use my 1997 Ford Explorer or purchase a new, environmentally-friendly electric SUV or hybrid?  This may surprise you but hanging onto your old vehicle is almost always more earth-friendly than purchasing a new one.  Even if the mileage on the old clunker is down to 14 mpg and the eco-friendly replacement is 60 mpg, it is still better overall to hang onto the old one.   The same is true for your clothes, your appliances and even your house.  It is always better to repair and continue to use something rather than purchasing a new replacement.  What about your smartphone?


Look at what we can accomplish together(humanity dodged a bullet)

My cousin’s son is the principal bassist for the Sydney Australia Symphony Orchestra.  I recall when my cousin visited them ten years ago, they said that Austalian families purchase SPF 70 sunscreen by the gallon.  Australian families purchased gallons per family per year of sunscreen for decades because part of the “ozone hole” loomed over the Australian continent.  Now, after forty years of concerted international effort, we are happy to report that the ozone layer is healing.  Scientists predict that the northern ozone hole will be back to its historic level by the 2030s and the southern hole by the 2060s.  This is a huge public policy success story.


A Priestly Contribution to Science

In 1929, Edwin Hubble published a paper showing that the universe is expanding*.  His empirical observation that distant galaxies were receding from us at a speed that is proportional to their distance away is now known as “Hubble’s Law.”  We have a space telescope named for him.  He was the first and deserves the credit, right?

Maybe not.  Turns out that that The Reverend Monsignor Georges Lemaître beat Hubble by two years.  Lemaître solved Einstein’s equations of General Relativity (no easy feat in itself), and went on to use astronomical observations giving the relationship between distance from the earth and the velocity of recession.  The mathematical constant in this relationship is known as “Hubble’s Constant” although with the knowledge of Lemaître’s work, it should be attributed to the earlier author, Lemaître. 


A Hundred Pounds of Clay

A few of us can remember the Gene McDaniels’ song of 1961, “A Hundred Pounds of Clay,” but did you know that this extrapolation from the creation story of Genesis might be more scientifically accurate than might guess?    I am referring to a 1985 “Clay hypothesis” in the field of “albiogenesis” or the “origin of life.”  In the first billion years or so of our planet’s existence, conditions on the surface were more like hell than the earth we know today.  There was no oxygen in the atmosphere.  Volcanoes belched toxic gases of sulfur, cyanide and nitric acid.  The planet was constantly bombarded by large meteors and comets bringing much of the water that fills our oceans.  There were no plants or any life whatsoever.  The landscape was a dull grey-black.  The red color of red clay would not appear for millions of years with the great oxidation event after plants appeared and started producing oxygen. 


The Commemoration Today – Ignatius of Antioch

In my writing and reviewing, I am developing a better “Rant-O-Meter.”  This enables me to review something already written before I hit “Send” and decide one final time whether such material goes out or not.  What hit the trash bucket today was a reflection on how my Primary Care Provider (healthcare) does not have the ability or willingness to accept and store medical images (mine) from other institutions.  It is ironic because in 1978 I was one of the three engineers who developed what would become the global standard for medical institutions storing and sharing patient images.  The ROM went a little high, so I decided to substitute the story of a Christian martyr we observe today.  The following is mostly taken from the website where you can pray the Daily Office and follow things like this.  Connected with this, my ordination to the priesthood is celebrated on the Feast of Polycarp, Feb 23.  In 2019, it will be 20 years.


Diminishing Resoures, Politicians and a Finite Earth

There is a paradox in the world of building highways.  A reasonable person might observe a congested four lane road and believe that doubling the size of the road to eight lanes would decrease traffic congestion.  But the reality is quite different and has been observed in cities around the world for fifty years.  If you build a bigger road from point A to point B, the traffic congestion will remain about the same as before or worse.


Schedule 80

Being co-owner of a winery, I get to do some things with technology that are not generally done by the average home-owning handy-person.  The latest project has involved installing a seven-ton (84,000 BTU) glycol chilling unit to cool wine tanks.  The plumbing used to circulate the coolant (propylene glycol) is a stronger form of PVC pipe like they use for your lawn sprinklers called “Schedule 80.”  The stronger stuff withstands the constant pressure and temperature changes in this application.  The cheap stuff at the big-box hardware store will never hold up to these conditions.


Perspective 2

In the Manhattan Project to produce the first atomic weapons, one of the projects my uncle supervised was “Monte Carlo calculations” of the properties of neutron shields and deflectors.  No they weren’t gambling.  Monte Carlo calculations are statistical methods of simulation.  When you have to lift a five-ton weapon with a propeller driven, 1940’s vintage aircraft, it is critical to know how much lead is needed.  Too much and it literally won’t fly.  Too little and the weapon won’t work.  Uncle Bob once described to me what it was like to have a building with 500 math and physics graduate students sitting at desks with calculators cranking out computations.  Today, an undergraduate could do those same computations (all of them that took 500 students several months) on an average laptop in a few minutes.

If you want a nice break from touristy San Francisco, take the ferry over to Angel Island.  If you climb around the military fortifications on the west end of the island, guarding the entrance to San Francisco Bay, you will find an historical plaque.  The plaque talks about how Congress in the early 1800s authorized $5M to build these guns and fortifications.  About three years after the guns were in place, the introduction of steel cladding on military ship’s wooden hulls rendered the entire gun emplacement obsolete.  Such is the nature of progress.  Today’s edge on the enemy (or the competition) becomes tomorrow’s scrap for the recycle bin.

Since the advent of transistors in the 1970s, electronic computing has been marching along to Gordon Moore’s Law (founder of Intel) that states memory capacity and CPU speed will double every 18 months.  People have predicted the demise of Moore’s Law several times in the last decade, but it continues to march on towards the fundamental limits of physics or until something radically different comes along.

Quantum computing is radically different.  Today’s quantum computers must be cooled to near absolute zero (-473 degrees Fahrenheit or really really cold) and they must be completely isolated from radio waves of all kinds.  These machines are the sci-fi of today but it appears that in the next few years to a decade ahead, practical quantum computers will be built that are millions or billions of times faster than any computer existing today.

Sadly, one major push for quantum computing comes from the financial industry that just wants a bigger calculator to predict market trends.  Another major use for these ultra-fast computers will be encrypting messages and decrypting secret data.  Those who rely upon conventional style computers for encryption of data will someday find that quantum computers will be able to break their “unbreakable” encryption.

Someday in the future, the recent FBI square off against Apple regarding the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone will seem as quaint and silly as an old rotary dial telephone is today.  It is always helpful to have some perspective on what we call “progress.”