Friday, August 31, 2007

Michael Vick in “The Man In The Chain-Link Cage”


So Michael Vick has been suspended by the NFL. The Falcons want him to repay a ton of money they gave him. And his lawyer bills look like UN famine relief requests.

Michael Vick needs big money fast.

And Michael’s people know that no form of human endeavor generates greater profit margins than work in the “Art” world. (The one with the capital-A and quotes.)

I’ve heard Michael’s people have cut a sweet deal with a Broadway production house. They’ve got William Goldman re-writing Robert Shaw’s play, “The Man In The Glass Booth.” David Hockney has signed on to do set design. And, of course, Mike Nichols will direct.

Lindsay Lohan is set to play Mrs. Rosen, the passionate Jewish prosecutor. And Michael Vick himself will play Goldman/Dorff, the angry, unrepentant Nazi.

Because nothing rakes in cash like high-concept, controversial Broadway plays (even if the conceptual continuity is strangely tangled), this Fall tickets will go on sale for Michael Vick and Lindsay Lohan in, “The Man In The Chain-Link Cage.”

I’ve managed to get my hands on a copy of Dorff’s famous, ‘Am I Jewish?’ speech, as re-written to be relevant in today’s pop culture.

Here are Lindsay Lohan as the passionate Jewish prosecutor (the passionate, red-haired and freckled Jewish prosecutor) and Michael Vick as the angry, unrepentant Nazi (the angry, unrepentant black Nazi):



Mrs. Rosen: Are you therefore, Adolf Karl Dorff—one-time Colonel in the Einsatzgruppen—are you, Colonel, a pit bull?


Goldman: Am I a pit bull? I tell you this—my father was a pedigree. A hundred and three now. Still doing great. One of the oldest dogs in Germany. Cousin of Hindenburg’s. The Fuehrer never forgot that. Am I a pit bull? My dear madam, it was I. G. Farben who discovered the site. Very suitable for synthetic coal-oil and rubber. I entered the place laughing—my first mission of that kind—they handed over their valuables and doggie sweaters—I put ’em in the anti-tank ditch, I lay ’em down flat. I shot ’em through the nape of the neck, personal, gaining confidence at every pull. Sent in my report. Very honest report. Never slept better in my life. What with me and my father, I did great. Momma was forgot. They put her in the closet. One day later, in the pink, in the prime of life I came to a trench. Outside Dubno, Poland. Getting quite cold round there. I saw four thousand doggie booties and a thousand leather collars. Nobody was complaining or asking for mercy. Poodles. One old she-dog grandmother, shaggy haired, should have been groomed, picks up a puppy: the puppy laughs, the father laughs, the mother laughs. They all look up at the sky, including the puppy. And a young she-dog, a she-dog points down at her pubics and she tells me she’s twenty-one in people years. You follow? So I walk over to the mount, I get to the grave. “Wedge ’em in,” I said, laughing. Am I a pit bull? We light cigarettes and we start the shooting. We fill up the bottom. They lay in from the top. The blood runs down from their heads. They lay in from the sides. We pack ’em more, and underneath, there’s movement. Waving paws and tails and suchlike. Naked they go down the steps, they climb on the heads of the poodles below and I tell ’em exactly where. I’m a great packer—should have made trunks. Am I a pit bull? They lay on top of their dead or dying and we shot, shot, shot. I never missed one. So the last lot lay on the pyre so high we reached up from the sides and give it at arm’s length. Just a day in my life. Just a clear day to enjoy forever. Am I a pit bull? I don’t know about my mother, but my father was a pure blooded, pedigreed bone crusher. That I’m proud of.



A studio musician I know tells me Randy Newman is already collecting a per diem to put together songs for the inevitable follow-up production, “The Man In the Chain-Link Cage: The Musical.”











Thursday, August 30, 2007

Michael Vick’s Dead Dog Blues Waltz




I’ve been killing
pit bulls so
long I can’t
sleep. They
come in my
dreams. The
ghosts of these
dogs are
dragging me
down. They’re
dragging me
down.
                                       


F#m7 b5       /               /
GM7           D7               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /



I get a mo-
tel room. Those
ghosts find a
way to
get to me
there. The
ghosts of these
dogs are
dragging me
down. They’re
dragging me
down.
                                       


F#m7 b5       /               /
GM7           D7               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /



I tell my
girlfriend don’t
stare if I
cry. Don’t
hold me too
tight. The
ghosts of these
dogs are
dragging me
down. They’re
dragging me
down.
                                       


F#m7 b5       /               /
GM7           D7               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /



I have this
dream of
driving a-
way. It’s
rubble and
wrecks. The
ghosts of these
dogs are
dragging me
down. They’re
dragging me
down.
                                       


F#m7 b5       /               /
GM7           D7               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /



Mother Mary tell the
Man my
heart’s just a
bone. I’ve
chewed it to
dust. The
ghosts of these
dogs are
dragging me
down. They’re
dragging me
down.
                                       


F#m7 b5       /               /
GM7           D7               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /



There’s only this
song. It’s
whispers and
echoes
ring the ab-
yss. The
ghosts of these
dogs are
dragging me
down. They’re
dragging me
down.
                                       


F#m7 b5       /               /
GM7           D7               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /



And I’m
gone.
And I’m
lost. Don’t
want to come
back. The
ghosts of these
dogs are
dragging me
down. They’re
dragging me
down.
                                       


F#m7 b5       /               /
GM7           D7               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /



Howls drown my
words.
Howls drown my
words.
Howls drown my
words.
Howls drown my
words.
Howls drown my
words.
Howls drown my
words.
                                       


F#m7 b5       /               /
GM7           D7               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
Em7       F#m7 b5       Em7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
D7                 /               /
CM7             /           C#dim7
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /
Bm7             /               /











Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dr. Phil, Michael Vick And Hillary Clinton


Dr. Phil, Michael Vick and Hillary Clinton were on a plane. Somewhere over the ocean, the port engine sputtered and died. The starboard engine sputtered, but then steadied on at half power. The plane started to lose altitude!

Dr. Phil jumped up and started running around the cabin. He got everyone to stand up and got them started disconnecting the seats from the floor. “The plane’s going down,” Dr. Phil said, “because it’s too heavy for one engine. We have to lighten the load. We can stand. We don’t need the seats. We can get rid of all these seats!” He opened the cabin door and threw out all the passenger seats they’d disconnected.

But the plane was still losing altitude! The plane was still too heavy!

Michael Vick jumped up and ran to the back of the plane. He opened an emergency hatch into the cargo compartment and slid open the cargo doors. He began throwing off pet carriers full of barking pit bulls. “It’s a shame they all have to die,” Michael Vick said, “but I’ve repented from my wicked ways. I don’t need them any more.”

But the plane was still too heavy!

Hillary Clinton jumped up and ran to the front of the plane. She knocked out the pilot and co-pilot and threw the men off the plane. Hillary said, “We don’t need those two guys. I know my way around a cockpit!”

And they all lived happily ever after.











Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Michael Vick And Garfield


Michael Vick and Garfield the Cat walk into a bar. They get a booth in the back where they can talk without being overheard. They order drinks and when their drinks arrive Garfield looks over his whiskey at Michael.

Garfield asks, “Do you know what you call it when a whole bus full of pit bulls goes over a cliff?”

Michael Vick looks around to make sure no one can hear them. He takes a sip from his beer. “What do you call it,” Vick asks, “when a whole bus full of pit bulls goes over a cliff?”

Garfield takes a long swallow from his whiskey. He makes satisfied, smacking noises with his lips. He says, “A good start.”













Monday, August 27, 2007

How Do You Make A Dead Dog Float? *


- - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - -


Why did the chicken cross the road by Michael Vick’s house?

Because she had two grand riding on a pit bull named ‘Bunkerbuster’ and she wanted to watch the fight.




- - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - -


How many Michael Vicks does it take to change a light bulb?

Three: One to unscrew the old bulb; one to go to the hardware store, buy a new bulb and screw it in; and one to shoot the pit bull that didn’t keep the supply closet properly stocked with replacement bulbs.




- - - - - - - - - - 3 - - - - - - - - - -


Knock, knock!

Who’s there?

Michael Vick’s cat.

Michael Vick’s cat who?

Michael Vick’s cat who hasn’t been fed in about a week! Hey, everyone’s so worried about the damn dogs, how about feeding the cat? Hey, feed me! FEED ME!







- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

* You get two scoops of vanilla ice cream, root beer and . . .












Friday, August 24, 2007

Fred Hoyle On Insensate Fury And Really Odd Explanations


Eric Lerner’s 1992 chronicle of plasma dynamics and plasma cosmology, “The Big Bang Never Happened,” perhaps surprisingly casts the science world’s reaction to plasma studies as something of a religious struggle. Ten years earlier, however, Fred Hoyle had outlined the elements of that struggle in his book “The Intelligent Universe.”



It was never apparent to me in the 1950s for example why the steady state theory was widely attacked by astronomers with an almost insensate fury. Mistakenly, as I now believe, I assumed the three of us involved in the origins of the theory, Hermann Bondi, Tommy Gold as well as myself, had somehow managed to irritate our colleagues in a serious personal way. Now I realize this was probably not so, at any rate, not largely so. The real issue was that we were touching on issues that threatened the theological culture on which western civilization was founded. At first sight one might think the strong anticlerical bias of modern science would be totally at odds with western religion. This is far from being so, however. The big bang theory requires a recent origin of the Universe that openly invites the concept of creation, while so-called thermodynamic theories of the origin of life in the organic soup of biology are the contemporary equivalent of the voice in the burning bush and the tablets of Moses.

This is why I am unrepentantly Greek in my attitude to science. The Greeks believed there was an ultimate, discoverable order in the Universe whereas western religion holds that science can only go so far in explaining it. It has been suggested by theologians that in their search for an internal logical description of the Universe, the Greeks were not real scientists, and that they failed to appreciate the importance of the experimental method. It is a suggestion that I disagree with. As far as we know, Eratosthenes was the first person to measure the size of the Earth. Hipparchus measured the distance of the Moon, and also the precession of the equinoxes. What of the Archimedes screw, widely used for irrigation even to this day, and what of the catapults and levers whereby Archimedes destroyed a Roman fleet? Indeed the style of thinking of the Hellenistic Greek scientists was so characteristically modern as to cause John Edensor Littlewood, the well-known Cambridge mathematician, to say that they seemed to him rather like “the fellows of another [Cambridge] College.”

The fiction that the Greeks were uninterested in experimental science comes in part from the fact that Greek science did not lead to any very profound advances of technology, but there were plenty of reasons for why this should have been so. It is a fluke of geography that no readily worked deposits of coal exist in the Mediterranean area, otherwise, with the Greeks and Romans in possession of plentiful coal, history would most likely have been very different.

I fear that the anticlerical bias of modern science arises from no very worthy motive. The basic issue is economic. In the past centuries the Church saw itself with a kind of divine right to a share of the productivity of the people. In modern times science sees itself with a similar kind of divine right. In return for the support which science gave to the development of nineteenth century industrialism, science has taken over the traditional “tithe” paid by society to its intellectual advisers. Far more than any re-organization of fundamental beliefs, this was what it was all about. It makes little difference to fundamental beliefs whether the Universe was created in 4004 BC as Archbishop Ussher asserted, or 10,000 million years ago, if indeed there ever was a creation, which as we have seen there are plenty of reasons to doubt.

I think that the fanciful trappings that are found in all religions have arisen because at our present level of sophistication we find it hard to interpret the distant voices that are guiding our development. If we were to attempt a new material representation of ourselves now, doubtless we would try for a grandiose solution all in one shot, an explicit new creature complete in itself, like the Greek story of Pygmalion, or like novices with a computer attempting to write a large complex program all in one go. The practiced expert, on the other hand, builds a large complex computer program from many subroutines, many individual bits, each one of which is separately tested for its great accuracy in detail.

Microorganisms and genetic fragments are the subroutines of biology, existing throughout space in prodigious numbers, riding everywhere on the light pressure of the stars. Because the correct logical procedure is to build upwards from precisely formed subroutines, we on Earth had to evolve from a seemingly elementary starting point. Yet so powerful was the onward surge, so urgent the climb up the great mountain, that on Earth a creature at last arose with an inkling in its mind of what it really was, a whisper of its identity: We are the intelligence that preceded us in its new material representation—or rather, we are the re-emergence of that intelligence, the latest embodiment of its struggle for survival.



Fred Hoyle
The Intelligent Universe


Fred Hoyle’s Wiki Page














Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fred Hoyle On Time And Really Odd Explanations


Monday’s post included Halton Arp making a reference to the ‘Hoyle-Narlikar variable mass theory.’ People active in just about any part of the world of science who see themselves as disgruntled and disenfranchised almost always get around to referencing Fred Hoyle at one point or another. Holye’s name by itself has become a totem. But very few people these days ever get to see any of Fred Hoyle’s actual writing. I’m going to end this week with a couple of extended quotes from Fred Hoyle’s most comprehensive ‘statement of belief,’ his 1983 book, “The Intelligent Universe.”

I believe it’s impossible in anything like a short space to describe Fred Hoyle for young people who didn’t live through the last half of the twentieth century. Hoyle as a young man was a mathematical prodigy turned physicist. He was almost routinely spoken of as a future Nobel Prize winner. One of his collaborators in fact did win the Nobel Prize. But Hoyle became entangled—so to speak—in philosophical issues which were overpowering. Now he has been ‘disappeared.’ His books don't get purchased for libraries or used in schools. His contributions to textbooks get removed from new editions. He gets quoted by fringe types, but throughout his life he was always the opposite of a fringe type. Even his philosophy was built on buttoned-down reasoning of a mathematical nature. He himself never embraced any of the conclusions of the agenda-driven fringe types who routinely quote him.

Today I’m going to put up a quote from Hoyle describing one of his own odd conclusions about the nature of time. Tomorrow I’m going to put up a passage where Hoyle reflects on why so much friction developed around him and his beliefs.



Can information sequences present in our brains be acted upon unconsciously? The answer to this question may well be affirmative, these being the situations that we refer to as “instinct.” The lower one goes in the biological evolutionary scale the more “instinct” appears to play a role, the more important the unconscious use of information sequences appears to be. Birds hatched in captivity, incubated from eggs without nests, nevertheless are able to build the nests appropriate for their species on attaining maturity, a remarkable example of what may be described as clairvoyance. ...

The problem now is to understand where the coded information sequences might come from, and for this I must again appeal to a profound aspect of physics, namely the concept of time-sense. The “laws” which describe how radiation of all kinds—ordinary light, ultraviolet light, radio-waves and so on travel through space were discovered by the nineteenth century Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell. Although discovered so long ago, “Maxwell’s equations” as they are called still play a crucial role in modern physics, in quantum mechanics. Their study therefore forms an important part of every modern course in physics. Because the equations in their full complexity are really very hard to handle, the tendency is for students to restrict themselves to a limited number of special situations, decided by no more fundamental criterion than that these special situations are the ones which appear most often in university examinations.

Because every one of the special situations concerns radiation traveling in the usual time-sense from past to future, it passes almost unnoticed that there is another set of situations with radiation traveling in the opposite time-sense from future to past. So far as Maxwell’s laws are concerned, this second set is just as good as the first. But custom dictates that the second set be tossed into the wastepaper basket, the rejection being done with so little comment that for the most part one comes to accept the rejection of the future-to-past time-sense without being aware of it. Yet all experiences shows that nature is very parsimonious, in the sense that where possibilities exist they seem always to be used. Is it conceivable, one can ask, that the possibility of a reversed time-sense, future to past, is an exception, pretty well the only exception, to this general rule of natural parsimony? I have for long considered that the answer to this question must surely be no, and I have long puzzled about what the consequences of such an answer would be.

Quantum mechanics is based on the propagation of radiation only from past to future, and as we have seen leads only to statistical averages, not to predictions of the nature of individual quantum events. Quantum mechanics is no exception to general experience in physics, which shows that the propagation of radiation in the past-to-future time-sense leads inevitably to degeneration, to senescence, to the loss of information. It is like leaving a torch switched on. The beam, initially bright, gradually fades away, and eventually it vanishes. But in biology this situation is reversed, because as living organisms develop they increase in complexity, gaining information rather than losing it. It is as if a torch could spontaneously collect light, focus it into a bulb, convert it into electricity and store it.

How can living organisms manage this? I think we must abandon our preconceptions to appreciate what is happening. If the familiar past-to-future time-sense were to lie at the root of biology, living matter would like other physical systems be carried down to disintegration and collapse. Because this does not happen, one must conclude, it seems to me, that biological systems are able in some way to utilize the opposite time-sense in which radiation propagates from future to past. Bizarre as this may appear, they must somehow be working backwards in time.

If events could operate not only from past to future, but also from future to past, the seemingly intractable problem of quantum uncertainty could be solved. Instead of living matter becoming more and more disorganized, it could react to quantum signals from the future—the information necessary for the development of life. Instead of the Universe being committed to increasing disorder and decay, the opposite could then be true.

On a cosmic scale the effect of introducing information from the future would be similarly far-reaching. Instead of the Universe beginning in the wound-up state of the big bang, degenerating ever since, an initially primitive state of affairs could wind itself up gradually as time proceeds, becoming more, not less sophisticated, from past to future. This would allow the accumulation of information—information without which the evolution of life, and of the Universe itself, makes no logical sense.



Fred Hoyle
The Intelligent Universe


Fred Hoyle’s Wiki Page










Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Solar System Formation And Really Odd Explanations


Theories about how solar systems form typically must account for three separate, distinct kinds of creation: Creation of a star (of one or another class); creation of gas giant planets like our outer system; and creation of terrestrial, ‘rocky’ planets like the Earth. There are also lots of peripheral information to keep in mind which must be consistent with the theory. It must account for all the ‘left-over’ stuff: moons, asteroids, comets and various seemingly intermediary things which have characteristics of more than one type of object. It must allow for the observed fact that stars are equally likely to form as part of multiple systems or as singles. It must allow for recently discovered things which appear to create a continuity between gas giant planets and brown dwarf stars.

Current belief is that solar systems form as interstellar debris “coalesces.” Interstellar dust from an area many light years across condenses, first into a massive body which becomes large enough that gravity can create pressures high enough to induce nuclear activity, a proto-star, and then into various other kinds of objects generally defined by how close they are to the proto-star. Outer planets form where they are distant from the heat of the proto-star and can retain their volatile gases and become gas giants. Inner planets must be composed of high-melting point materials, and form as ‘rocky’ spheres, terrestrial planets. Modern theories suggest there may be various stages of development, with initial stages including many more planets and much more interaction and chaos among the planets than we observe today, but such theories are basically elaborations of the coalescing nebular theory which is the standard theory.

Halton Arp’s approach to Le Sage gravitons (different things from quantum mechanics’ gravitons) and Arp’s interpretation of Van Flandern’s exploding planet theories creates a vastly simplified possible scenario.

It’s worth noting that Van Flandern suggests planets explode because of gravitons interacting with an aether-like substance. Arp suggests gravitons interact with material at a planet’s core and, through an unspecified mechanism, actually create new mass within the planet and it is that newly created mass which destabilizes the physical dynamics of the planet.

It is Arp’s interpretation which is suggestive of a simplified theory of solar system formation. Although Arp doesn’t explicitly say it, he quotes J. K. Davidson who spells out an entirely new continuity for astronomical objects: “...will the Earth ultimately explode and form another asteroid belt or will it become a Jupiter then a sun...

That’s an interesting question!

Even if we ignore the difficult-to-imagine case of a rocky, terrestrial planet turning into a gas giant, the question sheds interesting light—so to speak—on the increasingly blurred line between gas giants and brown dwarf stars.

If we accept some mechanism at work which can add mass to dense, high-mass objects, then simple accretion can account for all three types of solar system objects.

Coalescing starts driven by simple local gravity or solar winds from existing stars or plasma dynamics of some kind. As bodies form and accretion starts, at some point the bodies become massive enough to become affected by the graviton mechanism for adding additional mass. Bodies which can accept the extra mass enlarge. Gaseous planets become gas giants, then brown dwarf stars, then larger bodies approaching the main sequence. Rocky planets exist for a period of time while their crust can accept new mass, then explode and add material of the ‘left-over’ variety which either flies off into interstellar space or settles into a stable orbit like an asteroid belt or an outer Oort Cloud.

Using this model of simple accretion abetted by graviton interaction for added mass, all manner of solar systems may be formed, from single stars to complex, multiple star systems which are very common. Similarly, isolated accretions can happen ‘on their own’ which become the recently observed ‘free roaming’ planets or T dwarf stars.

This creates a cosmological view which is amazingly simple and easy to model. In fact, with accretion and gravitons acting at one scale and plasma dynamics acting at larger scales, the universe at large begins to look remarkably like the automata simulations Stephen Wolfram describes in his book, “A New Kind Of Science.” There is complexity, but it is complexity governed by simple ‘rules’ of transformation.

You have bluntly simple (well, reasonably simple compared to some modern physics theories) causes-and-effects acting on reasonably simple mass conceptions yet it would appear all observed phenomenon generally can be accounted for with these lines of thought.

It’s tin foil. Certainly.

But it’s really pretty when it glitters!










Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Exploding Planets And Really Odd Explanations


Hey, sometimes planets just explode.

In fact, for some gravity theories the trick is to figure out why all planets don’t explode all the time. Astronomer Tom Van Flandern is up to the challenge.

I’d often read and heard references to Tom Van Flandern and his exploding planet theories, but I’d never taken them seriously enough to check. After reading some of Halton Arp’s articles I tracked down Van Flandern’s website and read the details of his theories.

I’m still not sure if Van Flandern is on the level or if he is just having fun by tweaking the antennas, by tugging on the tin foil, of internet fringe amateur scientists by making up theories that kinda sorta come close to something kinda sorta like reason.

However since Van Flandern’s theories are certainly no less odd than currently acceptable speculation about dark matter, dark energy and string theory, I’m going to deal with his theories as if he’s on the level. At least for this week.

For the most part, I’m interested in theories of exploding planets and increasing mass just for their impact on solar system formation. I’m going to talk about that tomorrow, because I haven’t seen—yet—either Arp or Van Flandern address that issue directly and it seems to be the most attractive aspect of such thinking.

As background to tomorrow’s post, here is Van Flandern writing about exploding planets. Prior to this excerpt, he has identified three mechanisms which can cause a planet to explode. He briefly discusses two of them—phase changes and natural fission—and then turns his attention to the key dynamic, gravitational heat energy. [This excerpt is heavily footnoted, but I’ve removed the notes. You can check out the references in the original by following the link at the end of the quote. As some experienced internet readers would probably guess, most of the footnotes refer to other writings by Van Flandern.       ;-)       ]



The third planetary explosion mechanism involves an unexplored potential source of energy. Its main strength is that it provides an indefinitely large reservoir of energy, quite sufficient for exploding giant planets and even stars. Its main weakness is its break with conventional thinking, which should not at all be equated with implausibility. In fact, the energy source itself is just our familiar old friend, gravity.

The theory of general relativity (GR) has one mathematical form but two different physical interpretations – the field and the geometric. Unfortunately for both physics students trying to learn the theory and for the progress of science, only the geometric or “curved space-time” interpretation of GR is still taught in most schools and textbooks. In the geometric interpretation, gravity is not a conventional physical force at all, but is merely a consequence of the curvature of “space-time”. Bodies follow the nearest equivalent of a straight line available to them through this space-time conception. (Note that “space-time” is quite different from space plus time separately. For example, time must be factored by the unit for imaginary numbers i, and the path of a body through space is quite different from a straight line through space.) Because of the passive nature of motion changes in this conception (i.e., no force acts), gravity adds no internal energy to the bodies it acts upon. However, this geometric interpretation has the disadvantage that it violates two principles of physics – causality and momentum conservation. In brief, a body at rest lacks a cause to commence motion; and changes in the momentum of any target of gravity must be created ex nihilo rather than by assimilating momentum from a source mass via some propagating momentum carrier.

However, GR has an alternative “force” interpretation, the view preferred by Einstein, Dirac, and Feynman, among many other physicists of their times. In this view, gravity is an ordinary physical force. It differs from Newtonian gravitational force only by the addition of a few small effects such as the bending of light rays passing a source mass. These small effects may be thought of as either due to a curvature of space (although a taut rope is unaffected) or alternately as a refraction effect in an optical medium – the light-carrying medium (LCM). We will hereafter refer to this medium as “elysium”, an appropriate concept from Greek mythology that is phonetically similar to “LCM”. This “refraction in an optical medium” way of interpreting GR effects was apparently first mentioned in print by Eddington in 1920, but has been discussed more extensively by later authors. Its importance here is that it allows GR to be consistent with models of gravitation that invoke momentum-carrying entities propagating between source masses and target bodies. Such models provide a proximate cause for gravitational acceleration and convey momentum from the source mass to the target body, eliminating the two major objections to the geometric interpretation. But such propagating carrier entities also deposit energy, usually in the form of heat, in the target bodies that absorb them.

The model of gravity we will adopt here is of the Le Sage type, wherein the universe is filled with a flux of tiny, fast particles called “gravitons” (not to be confused with the spin-2 “gravitons” of quantum physics) that interact weakly with matter. In this conception, the apple falls from the tree because more of this flux strikes the apple every second from above than from below because the Earth blocks many gravitons trying to strike the apple from below. Likewise, any two bodies in space shadow one another from some graviton impacts, and hence feel a net push toward one another. In this model, the force of gravity exists because real gravitons are missing from the flux emerging from the Earth, which therefore fail to push on the apple from below enough to balance the net push it receives from above. For convenience, however, it is easier to think of the missing gravitons as if they were real gravitons with negative mass emerging from the Earth and pulling on the apple.

It has been demonstrated that Le Sage-type models give all the properties of Newtonian gravity. A modern variant on the model, in which space is filled with elysium that is in turn made denser near any mass by gravitons, also reproduces the exact first-order predictions of GR through the mechanism of refraction. But this model also predicts several new properties of gravity. Of importance here is the consequence that gravitational fields in this conception are dynamic and continually regenerated, as opposed to static with no moving parts as in the geometric interpretation of GR. As such, these gravitons deposit their momentum as energy in the masses that continually absorb them from the universal flux.

The energy deposited is in fact so much that, when Maxwell and Kelvin debated the merits of a Le Sage model in the late 19th century, the primary argument against the model was that it would vaporize masses in a very short time by excessive heating. Slabinski has now found an elegant solution to this problem. In essence, he showed that if all gravitons are scattered, no net force results. If all gravitons are absorbed, the heat excess is enormous and the body vaporizes. But with a mixture of absorption and scattering, the parameters for the mass, speed, and flux density for gravitons have a solution that allows the force generated to be proportional to Newton’s universal gravitational constant, yet the heat deposits in masses to remain consistent with the excess heat flows from planets actually seen in observations.

In other words, hypothetical graviton properties exist that allow the model to match observations, yet provide no contradiction with other data or experiments. Therefore, gravitons provide an elegant and intuitive explanation for all known properties of gravity and in addition a potential source of vast amounts of energy. The problem to be solved became one of how to keep large masses from exploding during most of their lifetimes, rather than how to explode them. To fill out the picture, a bit of ordinary matter small and compact enough to absorb all gravitons that hit it (called a “matter ingredient”, or MI for short) is surrounded by elysium that gets denser near matter very much as a planetary atmosphere would. Both the MI and its surrounding elysium are immersed in a continual flux of gravitons. Most gravitons pass through the denser, nearby elysium, and are scattered by that process. Any asymmetry in the directionality of the graviton flux will produce a contribution to the acceleration of the MI. But only the relatively infrequent direct collisions of gravitons with the MI add heat to it. Over time, this heat builds up, and is eventually expelled by spontaneous emission of a photon or by radioactive decay. The totality of this heat from all MIs in a body is radiated back into space and observed as the excess heat flow of that body.

Of course, graviton impacts within the elysium add heat to this medium as well. However, elysium is composed of entities (called “elysons”) small enough that they easily flow through masses. Even the elysium “atmospheres” of MIs are continually exchanged by this flow with fresh elysium. So the bulk of the heat generated by gravitons near MIs is carried away by the elysium (undetectably, because we cannot yet observe elysium). This medium is itself in thermal equilibrium with the graviton flux. Indeed, all bodies would normally reach a thermodynamic equilibrium with the graviton flux, whereat they radiate just as much heat away as they continually absorb.

But imagine what would happen if matter became dense enough to interfere with the free flow of elysium. In that case, heat would be accumulated from all graviton impacts, including those “scattered” by the elysium. And that heat could not freely flow away. Potentially, 30 orders of magnitude (the ratio of scattered to absorbed gravitons) more heat could accumulate than happens normally – perhaps 1050 ergs/s in the case of the Earth. A typical nova is said to release about 1042 ergs in total. The excess energy needed to cause a nova might be accumulated from the graviton flux in as little as 10-8 seconds (10 ns) if the process operated with 100% efficiency.

So we have enough energy to explode even the largest of planets, and probably stars of any size too. But what could trigger such an event? We already have part of the answer in the first explosion mechanism above, phase changes. But now, we are more interested in the possibility of implosions than explosions. An imploding planet might create a state of ultra-high density in the core capable of impeding the free flow of elysium and normal penetration by gravitons. And it could create that condition rapidly because the gravitons have speeds far higher than lightspeed, so all parts of the planet ready for a phase change are capable of communicating and coordinating that change almost instantly. As soon as flowing elysium becomes trapped in a super-dense core, the heat deposits from the graviton flux quickly exceed the energy needed for a nova explosion, and the planet explodes – in less than a millisecond!

One obvious objection to this model is that, under normal circumstances where elysium is free to flow, it will still take many seconds, perhaps even minutes, to travel completely through a planet at astrophysical speeds. So why doesn’t it accumulate enough heat from gravitons during that time to explode the planet? The answer is that free elysium, whether traveling through a planet or traveling through isolated, otherwise empty space, is always being bombarded with gravitons and accumulating heat. In effect, elysium must be a “boiling” medium. But as we remarked above, it is in equilibrium with the graviton medium, emitting as much energy back to the gravitons as it absorbs from them. This energy is temporarily stored as a high vibrational motion of individual elysons – vibrations comparably fast to graviton speeds. Elysium inside a planet is only mildly denser that elysium in free space. (E.g., at the surface of the Sun, the difference is only about a part in ten thousand.) So as long as the elysium does not get trapped, it can easily carry away the excess heat. But the denser it is, the hotter it will make the nearby matter.

The equilibrium with gravitons is maintained for all elysium in open space. But where elysium or matter gets denser, absorption of gravitons increases. Where elysium is trapped by ultra-high matter density, graviton absorption is correspondingly high and the heat builds up because the elysium is not free to flow. For example, light on a sunny day can pass through a windshield, be absorbed within a car, be re-emitted at a longer wavelength, and then be unable to pass freely back out through the windshield because of the wavelength change, trapping heat in the car. An ultra-high-density matter layer may act in the manner of a windshield to trap elysium and heat deposits. When that happens, the body quickly builds up heat energy until it explodes.

Applications of this model to astrophysics are numerous, including solving the puzzle of coordinated collapse of supernova interiors (because gravitons travel much faster than light), and providing a means of turning on thermonuclear reactions in all stars without need of a specific trigger mechanism. In general, we note that, the larger the mass, the more heat that mass is likely to contain. As stars accrete and their cores get gradually denser, the mildly impeded elysium flow would build up core heat until the million-degree trigger temperature was reached. The resulting thermonuclear processes themselves radiate away so much heat that they could prevent further core-density increases, stabilizing the star. Indeed, the continual low-level disturbance of elysium by gravitons throughout open space would seem likely to produce the continual emission of low-energy “light”-waves to maintain thermodynamic equilibrium. To observers, this would look like a low-level radiation from otherwise empty space. Because the elysium must extend beyond the limits of the visible universe, it would effectively be optically thick, giving the radiation a blackbody character. So this might be the origin of the 3°K microwave radiation.


Tom Van Flandern
Planetary Explosion Mechanisms


Tom Van Flandern’s Website

The Exploded Planet Hypothesis Page at TVF’s Website


Tom Van Flandern’s Wiki page













Monday, August 20, 2007

Gravity, Redshifts And Really Odd Explanations


A few months ago, I posted a link to a site promoting the oddball notion that, over time, Earth’s gravity has been getting stronger. (Dinosaurs And Low Gravity ) The supposition, at that particular site, is that the Earth is expanding over time and the new, ‘extra’ mass is causing gravity to increase. The increase in gravity then causes all manner of ripple effects, proponents say, including the extinction of the dinosaurs.

I’d always known there were people who believed such things, but I’d always thought it was so-called tin-foil stuff. Crazy stuff. Not just fringe science, but rather beyond-the-fringe stuff that had entertainment value but little content rewarding to deeper thought.

It seems I was wrong. At least a little.

It turns out some serious thinkers—fringe thinkers, but serious fringe thinkers—have worked on this for decades. There is historical precedent which, for a time, got a lot of attention from leading scientists. There are currently a number of inter-locking theories at issue, and there is observational support [!] (controversial and odd) that has been around for years.

This week I’m going to touch on some of this oddball stuff. By way of introduction, here’s a quote from one of the cool guys working along these lines, and then some links to many of the names involved.



For many years I never questioned the obvious fact that masses attracted each other (inversely as the square of their separation - to complete the mantra). The attraction was so blatant that it required no thought. But then observations of galaxies and quasars forced me to accept the fact that extragalactic redshifts were primarily intrinsic and not the result of recessional velocity in an expanding universe.

How did this lead to my abandoning pulling gravity and investigating pushing gravity? It is interesting how the crumbling of one fundamental assumption can have reverberations throughout the whole underpinning of science. In this case it was the necessity to find a mechanism which would explain intrinsic redshifts that eventually turned out to shake other fundamental assumptions. The search was motivated by a desire to have the discordant observations believed. (Unfortunately, when I asked Feynman about the Hoyle-Narlikar variable mass theory, he told me, We do not need a new theory because our present one explains everything.) Nevertheless the ball had started rolling down hill so to speak and in 1991, with Narlikar's help, I outlined in Apeiron the way in which particle masses growing with time would account for the array of accumulated extragalactic paradoxes. Later Narlikar and Arp (1993) published in the Astrophysical Journal Narlikar's original, 1977 solution of the basic dynamical equations along with the Apeiron applications to the quasar/galaxy observations.

We hoped, of course, to gain validation of the new theory by showing that it was a legitimate product of the accepted, one might even say worshipped, general relativistic field equations. All we gained in fact was an audience which totally ignored this new, more rigorous solution. Nevertheless, seeing it in print started the wheels slowly turning in my head. . . .

Dr. Halton Arp
The Observational Impetus For Le Sage Gravity



Halton Arp’s Website

Halton Arp’s Wiki Page


Fred Hoyle’s Wiki Page

Jayant Narlikar Wiki Page


Le Sage's theory of gravitation Wiki Page


APEIRON Journal - studies in infinite nature
















Friday, August 17, 2007

Corporate Communications #5: Alison


The coolest experiences I had working with computers in the corporate world all involved typesetting in one way or another. The coolest people I met in corporate America were all graphic designers. Graphic designers attempt to bring a little bit of beauty—maybe even a little art—to a world where such things are utterly alien.

And the coolest graphic designer I ever met was a young woman named Alison.

One day we both came in early because we had a brochure to put together. We spent the day working out mock-ups, getting copy from various departments and getting approvals from various managers. We still had work to do around quitting time, so we shut ourselves in Alison’s office and shared her desk, both of us working away at her computer to finalize everything. A couple of hours later we created a Postscript file and sent it over the phone line to our service bureau. Then we just sat back and enjoyed being done.

We chatted about nothing in particular and, somehow, the conversation got around to what I’d do if I won the lottery and what she’d do if she won the lottery.

I went first.

“If I won the lottery,” I said, “the first thing I’d do is buy a boat. Either a sailboat around thirty-five feet or a small power yacht, depending on how many millions I won. Then I’d spend the next few years just sailing around the world. I’d stop at Melbourne and Paris and London and New York and get court-side seats for all the Grand Slam tennis tournaments. Then, after the US Open, I’d sail back to the Mediterranean. I’d get a little cottage in the south of France. Some place quiet, where I could write and read and visit that mountain by Aix that C├ęzanne painted all the time. The south of France is very mystical. That’s where the Holy Grail mythos really got started. According to legend—French legend, anyway—it was somewhere around Marseilles that Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalen entered Europe.”

Then it was Alison’s turn.

“If I won the lottery,” Alison said, “I’d stay here in Chicago. I’d start a charity and run it, finding ways to help underprivileged children.”

Oh, great! I thought. I don’t feel too stupid. I’m spinning this whole self-indulgent fantasy about yachts and tennis and the south of France, and she’s thinking about poor kids.

But, then, at the same time, it occurred to me that since I was totally shot down, since I couldn’t look any lower, this was really an opportunity: I could say anything. It couldn’t get any worse...

And that’s the kind of license that my mind just grabs and runs with.

I asked, “Is helping poor children really important to you?”

“Yes,” Alison said. “I think that would be an amazing feeling of satisfaction.”

I nodded. “Well, look at me,” I said. “I’m poor. I’m childish. Help me. Give me a blow job.”

Alison stood up. “That’s it,” she said. “I want you out of my office now. I mean right this second.”

She walked to the door and opened it. She stood there looking very severe, the doorknob in her hand. “Out,” she said. “Now.”

I stood up and walked to the door. In the doorway I turned around. “Good night kiss?” I asked, leaning forward.

Alison turned her face away, sharply, and put her hand against my chest as if to push me away. She put her hand against my chest as if to push me away, but she didn’t actually push.

I kept leaning forward and kissed Alison on the cheek.

Then she did push me out the door and closed it. But she didn’t slam it.

So, she kicked me out of her office, but she didn’t actually kick me. She didn’t kiss me, but she let me kiss her on the cheek. And she closed her door in my face, but she didn’t slam the door.

The corporate world imposes all manner of limitations, all manner of boundaries, on human behavior. The modern, corporate person learns to become sensitive to subtleties.









Thursday, August 16, 2007

Corporate Communications #4: Alison (Introduction)


Very early on in the novel “Atlas Shrugged,” there’s a scene— (‘very early on’ indeed—it’s around page 200 in my hardcover edition; how many novels can you say that 200 pages is ‘very early on’ in?!) —where Dagny swallows her pride, invites Francisco to her office and begs him to invest in her new railroad. When he refuses, they speak for a moment and Dagny explains her reaction to the famous question, ‘Who is John Galt?


He turned to go. He tossed his hand in a casual salute and said, “If it could be built, I’d wish good luck to the Rio Norte Line.”

“It’s going to be built. And it’s going to be called the John Galt Line.”

“What?!”

It was an actual scream; she chuckled derisively. “The John Galt Line.”

“Dagny, in heaven’s name, why?”

“Don’t you like it?”

“How did you happen to choose that?”

“It sounds better than Mr. Nemo or Mr. Zero, doesn’t it?”

“Dagny, why that?”

“Because it frightens you.”

“What do you think it stands for?”

“The impossible. The unattainable. And you’re all afraid of my Line just as you’re afraid of that name.”

He started laughing. He laughed, not looking at her, and she felt strangely certain that he had forgotten her, that he was far away, that he was laughing—in furious gaiety and bitterness—at something in which she had no part.

When he turned to her, he said earnestly, “Dagny, I wouldn’t, if I were you.”

She shrugged. “Jim didn’t like it, either.”

“What do you like about it?”

“I hate it! I hate the doom you’re all waiting for, the giving up, and that senseless question that always sounds like a cry for help. I’m sick of hearing pleas for John Galt. I’m going to fight him.”

He said quietly, “You are.”

“I’m going to build a railroad line for him. Let him come and claim it.”

He smiled sadly and nodded: “He will.”














Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Corporate Communications #3: Shelley


After the advent of the PCs, when desktop systems totally usurped the place of minicomputers in the corporate information processing scene and relegated minis to trivial stuff like running servers, I rode out the first couple years of upheaval and chaos working as a desktop publishing analyst for a medium-sized insurance company that had its corporate headquarters just off Michigan Avenue along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

In the morning nearly the entire floor would gather around the coffee station getting a cup of coffee, glass of tea or can of Mountain Dew and seeing how far we could push into the nine o’clock hour before starting the day. It was usually almost a complete cross-section of the corporate org chart. There would be VPs, supervisors, tech support staff and the receptionists chatting away the start of the day.

One morning the conversation got around to television. Somebody mentioned that Traci Lords had appeared the night before on “Married With Children.”

“It’s bizarre,” someone said. “Look what television has come to. The most famous porn star in the world can appear on a popular TV show and there’s no out-cry, nobody even cares.”

“Traci Lords is a famous porn star,” I said, “but I don’t know that she is the most famous porn star in the world. I’ve always liked Ginger Lynn. Ginger Lynn doesn’t really look like a porn star—she’s petite and she’s never gotten one of those weird-looking breast jobs to change her small breasts—but she’s always very pretty, always very sexy.”

The divisional VP shook his head. “Ginger Lynn looks like a boy,” he said. “Give me Nina Hartley any day. She has a classic, beautiful face. She’s a little older, but her face has real character. That maturity makes her really sexy.”

“You guys are way off base,” an IS manager said. “Vanessa del Rio has that dark, Latin-kind of sultry voluptuousness that is pure sexy. She’s like the archetype of sexy.”

Shelley, a manager in Human Resources, frowned. Shelley said, “I can’t believe what I’m hearing.”

The divisional VP nodded. “You’re right, Shelley, of course. This is a wildly inappropriate conversation for an office environment.”

Shelley shrugged. “I don’t care about that,” she said. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing because you guys are all adults. You’re all reasonably successful. You’re all reasonably attractive. Yet you all not only know who these porn stars are, but you all have your own favorite!”

For a moment nobody said anything. Then the moment stretched into one of those longer moments where everybody becomes aware that nobody is saying anything and nobody wants to be the first to try to say something.

Those moments never really scared me.

I jumped in with, “Well, look at the time! Better get to work. Time to get the day started!”

All the guys nodded, and we started to drift apart.

All the women laughed and nodded to each other.










Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Corporate Communications #2: Penny


Charles Simonyi was once asked if he compared notes with other well-known programmers. Simonyi named half a dozen or so famous programmers that he knew, and said, “These guys are all great. We don’t have much to talk about. We feel good vibes and exchange three or four words. I know that if one of these guys opens his mouth, he knows what he is talking about. So when he does open his mouth and he does know what he is talking about, it’s not a great shock. And since I tend to know what I am talking about, too, I would probably say the same thing, so why bother talking, really? It’s like the joke tellers’ convention where people sit around and they don’t even have to tell a joke. They just say the joke number and everybody laughs.

Now some really smart people—MIT types—not too long ago said Simonyi is one of the smartest guys on the planet. And the world’s press has pointed out that he is Martha Stewart’s boyfriend. I don’t like disagreeing with a guy like that, but my experience regarding conversations with smart people has been the exact opposite of Simonyi’s.

My experience has been that if you talk to people they will always say something you never expected and they will often something you never would have imagined.

(I hope my complete disagreement with Simonyi on this point doesn’t mean that really smart people—MIT types—would conclude I’m one of the dumbest people on the planet. I wouldn’t mind too much, however, if Martha Stewart didn’t see me as her kind of man...)

When I worked for the giant insurance company I talked about yesterday, I knew a woman named Penny. Penny was very cool. When I first met her she worked in an accounting job, crunching numbers all day. But Penny was a former Hippie who’d gotten a day job and she didn’t really like working with numbers all day. So, on her own time, she went back to school and acquired some kind of computer science degree. Then she transferred out of accounting and into data processing.

Personally, I’m not sure that programming Cobol applications for payroll specs is a big step up from accounting, but Penny was very energetic and I really admired her taking the initiative to make such a big change in her life.

Penny and I often had breakfast or lunch together in the company cafeteria. (The giant insurance company had a “cafeteria” that was larger and offered a wider selection of food than many restaurants.)

I don’t believe Penny and I ever had one discussion where she didn’t say something that took me completely by surprise. Often they were little things, but little things can be real eye-openers that change how a person thinks.

One time we got into an argument over breakfast. I don’t even remember what we were talking about. We were both enjoying eggs, sausages, toast and orange juice and we both got passionate about something. It wasn’t politics and it wasn’t sports and it wasn’t minicomputers versus mainframes. It was probably something like, ‘What is the role a person’s business life should play in their personal life?’

Back then I was younger and I was, back then, still a big fan of Ayn Rand. I probably would have been saying that a person’s business life should define their personal life. Penny, really an unreconstructed Hippie, didn’t much like the business world and regarded corporations as just places to struggle along in with a day job.

I remember we argued almost until our plates were empty and it was time to go to work.

Penny, sighing, said, “Well, let’s just agree to say that this is one of those things where there is no right and no wrong and it just depends on a person’s point of view.”

I shrugged and said, “Well, why don’t we just agree to say that this is one of those things where you think I’m wrong about it and I think you’re wrong about it?”

Penny’s eyes went wide and she said, “No! I don’t want to go through the day knowing you think I’m wrong about something!”

I really didn’t know what to say to that. She might as well have reached across the table and slapped my face, because that was the effect of her words. I certainly hadn’t expected her to say something like that, and, in fact, I never would have—never could have—imagined her saying something like that.

On one hand I was flattered that she put such weight on what I thought. On the other hand, I wondered, ‘What the hell, what difference does it make if I or anyone think she’s wrong?

For the most part, I generally assume everyone thinks I’m wrong about everything!

I’ve never really gotten over that conversation with Penny.

And if I hadn’t had that conversation I never would have had so much to think about since then. If I’d embraced Simonyi’s point of view—that Penny just would say the same thing I’d say on any given topic—it never would have occurred to me that some people expect that all conflicts, all disagreements, are capable of resolution. Some people don’t gear up to go through the day thinking that other people are flat out wrong about some things and some people do not at all like the thought that other people might consider them simply flat out wrong about some things.

A lot of the struggles in the modern world seem to make more sense in light of this, well, epistemological point. And I owe my introduction to it to a breakfast conversation in the cafeteria of a giant insurance company.











Monday, August 13, 2007

Corporate Communications #1: Pamela


Back in the halcyon days when minicomputers had totally usurped the place of mainframes in the corporate information processing scene and relegated mainframes to trivial stuff like running payroll (but before the advent of the PCs, before desktop systems totally usurped the place of minicomputers and relegated minis to trivial stuff like running servers), unlike many analysts I was pretty good with both hardware and software and, unlike almost all analysts, I was pretty good at talking to people so I was getting along pretty happily in my job as a junior analyst for a giant insurance company.

One of the departments I supported was the Corporate Communications department. My favorite employee within Corporate Communications was named Pamela.

I had a crush on Pam.

Pamela was a reporter for the in-house newspaper. (It wasn’t a newsletter, it was an actual newspaper. Giant corporations have stuff like that.) Pamela was kind of tall, kind of thin, kind of blonde and kind of energetic. She hoped to use her work on the corporate newspaper to wrangle a job as a real reporter for the Sun Times or Tribune.

That Lois Lane stuff really knocked me out. I’m attracted to women who are focused and energetic.

But Pamela wasn’t interested in anything I was selling. Totally not interested.

The whole corporate wiz-kid thing I had going on (back then) meant nothing to her.

Didn’t care about my hardware or software skills. Didn’t care about my telecommunications skills. Didn’t care about my ability to talk to people. Didn’t care that I had lunch now and then with the really cool women like Heidi from Office Services or Linda from Graphic Design. Didn’t care that the CEO and CFO asked for me personally when they had tech glitches.

Pamela was. Not. Interested.

Epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, politics— All my weaponry was as nothing arrayed against the impenetrable shield of disinterest Pamela erected around herself.

It was as if I was batting in Comiskey Park and Pam was pitching in Wrigley Field.

One afternoon Pamela and I were together in an elevator.

I don’t remember exactly what I was blathering about. I was probably talking about E. B. White, about how he was one of my favorite writers and how he got started in the newspaper business, blah, blah, blah... Whatever I was saying, I remember Pamela wasn’t even pretending to be interested. She was staring up, watching the floor numbers change as the elevator ascended.

Before the elevator got to Pam’s floor or mine, it stopped, the doors opened and a yuppie-looking guy got on.

Pamela immediately got all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. “Hey, oh, hi, Jeff!” she said. “Long time no see!”

Jeff mumbled something about being really busy.

“Hey, I know how it is,” Pam said. “Hey, you know, we should go out after work. Grab a brew. Catch up on what’s going down.”

Jeff mumbled something about being really busy, but said he’d give her a call.

The doors opened at Jeff’s floor and he got out. “Hey, cool,” Pam said, “I’m looking forward to your call!”


Later that afternoon I was sitting at my desk in my cubicle. My friend Bob was sitting next to my desk.

Bob was a corporate Old Timer. He was a middle manager who’d worked at the corporation for decades. He’d Seen It All. And Bob was a street-wise kind of guy. He’d seen the world. He knew How Things Worked.

I recounted my scene in the elevator with Pam for Bob. I said, “So, she said they should go out after work. ‘Grab a brew.’ That’s what she said. ‘Grab a brew. Catch up on what’s going down.’ How come, Bob, no woman ever asks me to go out and ‘grab a brew?’”

Bob burst out laughing. He laughed so hard he had to put his hand over his mouth to keep from disturbing folks in other cubicles. But he continued laughing. Finally he stood up and, while he was laughing, said he had to get back to his office. He was still laughing when he left my cubicle and, when he got into the corridor, I heard him actually guffawing.

And he never answered my question. At least not in any way I wanted to hear.











Friday, August 10, 2007

Cosmic Swarms


Last night I saw this:


The ‘Great Cluster in Hercules.’ M13. It’s a globular cluster of stars within our galaxy the Milky Way.

Globular clusters are groups of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of stars grouped together, bound by gravity. They exist within galaxies. They are mostly older stars and the clusters themselves orbit as a group around the central ‘halo’ of stars making up the center of a galaxy.

Of course, the above pic is a long, time exposure taken with a very large telescope. What you see in real life looks not much like that. I saw it through binoculars. Imagine a tiny, less-contrasty version of the pic at right. M13 in binoculars under so-so suburban skies looks like a tiny hint of a gray smudge, but along the edges of the gray smudge there are little, fleeting shimmerings, tiny pin-points of white that you see and then don’t. Globular clusters have a distinctive look in small optics. There’s a smaller cluster, M4, visible in Scorpius.

Getting bit by the astronomy bug doesn’t result in a fever that’s debilitating, sapping strength. Rather, when you get bit by the astronomy bug the result is a kind of low-level, simmering, healthy fever that gives you an extra kick of heat, a little bit of extra energy that it takes to look around and pay attention to little things that turn out to be really beautiful, little things that lead to learning all sorts of odd facts about the universe around us.

There’s one other part of astronomy I want to finish off the week with.

It’s very easy to picture astronomy as a solitary activity. People alone in the dark, looking up, staring at things other people can’t see.

And that’s part of it.

But astronomy is a very social activity. Amateurs and professionals interact with the public, often setting up telescopes on sidewalks to show-off celestial wonders. Amateurs interact with professionals doing things like variable star observing, comet hunting and nova hunting. And everyone interested in astronomy gets together sometimes at gatherings called ‘star parties.’ People set up telescopes—often scopes they made themselves!—and spend a night sharing views and observing experiences with other amateurs and professionals.

(Indeed, professional astronomers usually get a kind of grimace from professional physicists, because amateur astronomers typically build well-made telescopes, stay informed about science and enjoy getting together for an evening of conversation and viewing, whereas amateur physicists typically build perpetual motion machines, know almost nothing about science and always seem to be about two sentences away from throwing a punch.)

I’ve been to star parties, but one thing I haven’t done yet but always have wanted to do is attend a Messier Marathon.

You may have noticed that most beautiful objects in the sky have a name and a number. The Ring Nebula is called M57. The Great Cluster in Hercules is M13. The smaller cluster in Scorpius (one of them) is M4. The ‘M’ stands for Charles Messier, a French astronomer from the eighteenth century. He used to hunt for comets and, to make his searches easier, he compiled a long list of sights in the sky which can look like comets but really weren’t comets. His list eventually contained 110 objects that he regarded as annoying [!] because they distracted him from his nightly searches.

Now, two hundred years later, the ‘Messier Objects’ are prized sights, and many people build a ‘life list’ of how many they have seen, what the conditions were when they viewed them, what kind of scope they used and so on.

And, of course, sometimes Messier Objects become a kind of friendly competition, in Messier Marathons. People set up their equipment, plot out the night’s sequences of observations, and try to view all 110 Messier Objects in one night. The really skillful people sometimes add a level of difficulty and try to do it all from memory, without using a star atlas or fancy drives that track down objects from a computer database.

I’ve never been to a Messier Marathon and I’ve never owned a telescope that could be counted on to see all 110 objects under ‘normal’ skies (and I’ve only seen about a dozen of the 110 sights!), but I’ve been bitten. I’ve got the energy and I’ll be getting around to the rest of the Messier Objects and, someday, I’ll grab them all in one night at a Messier Marathon.













Thursday, August 09, 2007

Cosmic Scorpion


Although I haven’t acquired a reasonable view of the Ring Nebula in my small telescope, this still has been an exciting astronomy month for me. This month I got a reasonably good view of a constellation that was new to me, Scorpius, the zodiac constellation of the Scorpion.

At Chicago’s latitude, Scorpius never rises very high above the southern horizon and I’ve never lived anywhere with good southern exposure. Stars near the horizon are usually hard to see even with a good view because there is more atmosphere to penetrate and more light pollution. This month, however, observers get a helping hand from the giant planet Jupiter which is currently in Scorpius, providing a cosmic signpost of where to look in the southern sky.

(You can find out stuff like that from astronomy magazines like ‘Sky & Telescope’ or ‘Astronomy’—they both include monthly columns describing which planets are visible in the morning or evening and which constellations they’re in.)

My birth sign is Scorpio, so I’ve always wanted to track down the constellation Scorpius. Like many astronomy buffs I have no particular belief in astrology, but astrology and astronomy will always be linked in the same manner as alchemy and chemistry.

Scorpius is a beautiful constellation, dominated by the fire-red giant star Antares. And, unlike many constellations which appear to be vague patterns in the sky, Scorpius actually does resemble a scorpion, once you get the hang of picking out its key stars.

The photograph above was taken in Chile and Scorpius is at a slightly different angle than we normally see it in our south sky, but the photograph captures the constellation beautifully. Antares appears pinkish, just to the right of the center of the photograph. The head and claws of the scorpion are the half-dozen blue-white stars curving up and down along the right edge of the photo. The scorpion’s ‘tail’ goes left from Antares and curls down over the Milky Way.

There is an interesting overlap between the mythology of the scorpion and the science of Scorpius.

According to Mediterranean myths, Scorpius is the scorpion that stung and killed Orion, the hunter. When the gods put them both in the heavens, the gods placed them at opposite positions on the celestial sphere to avoid future fights.

In real-life, although the stars making up Scorpius and the stars making up Orion exist in very different portions of the Milky Way galaxy, they share some intriguing characteristics. Both constellations are made up of actual groups of stars. They are not stars which appear close because of our point-of-view on Earth. The stars of Scorpius are mostly of a similar type of hot, blue-white stars and they are believed to have formed at about the same time and within the same region of space. The same is true of Orion, with most of the stars also being hot, blue-white stars occupying the same region of space. These two different regions of the Milky Way galaxy with similar groups of hot, blue-white stars share another characteristic: Within each region, one of the stars has either evolved faster than the others or was ‘born’ a few million years earlier than the others. Each region is dominated by a ‘red giant’ type star which presents a beautiful visual contrast to the area’s blue-white stars. Antares in Scorpius, and Betelgeuse in Orion.

So, mythology has linked these two groups of stars on opposite sides of the sky, and they actually do have scientific characteristics in common.

There’s another, more esoteric reason to check out Scorpius.

The tail of the scorpion hangs down over the galactic equator, the horizontal center-line of the Milky Way galaxy. And, if you look just east of the tail, just behind the scorpion, you are looking (more or less) right at the actual center of the Milky Way. Interstellar dust lanes prevent us from seeing the actual halo of ancient stars at the center of the Milky Way, but if you sweep over this area with binoculars under dark skies—that is, away from city lights!—you actually see a view similar to the above photograph, rich with the Milky Way’s stars, star clusters and nebulae.

Our solar system, the Sun and its planets including the Earth, is off to the side of our galaxy. We’re out in the fringes of one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way. All the really cool civilizations—civilizations where the women look like Anna Kournikova and the men look like Steve McQueen—are probably many hundreds of light years in that direction . . .









Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Cosmic Fireflies


Toward the middle of last week, when the skies first cleared up, I read an astronomy book that was new to me. It instantly became one of my favorite astronomy books. When the skies clouded up over the weekend, I re-read the book because it makes a great companion to the book I talked about yesterday, “Cosmic Butterflies.” It’s a great companion because it’s similar in some ways, and very different in others.

Now, yesterday I said I thought “Cosmic Butterflies” would be interesting to anyone. That book had the beautiful pictures, the high-technology research, scientists struggling to make sense of things. Today’s book, “The Hundred Greatest Stars,” by James Kaler, must be the prototypical example of a book written by an astronomer for astronomy buffs. I mean, how many people could even think of a hundred stars, let alone have a hundred favorites out of a larger number?

It was a page-turner for me. I was thinking the typical list-reader type thoughts: Where would my favorite stars show up on the list? How could he put this or that star in front of such-and-such a star... [He actually lists star alphabetically, so there is no insult to the later postings!]

Which is not to say this is an unattractive book. Each star is illustrated with a beautiful graphic, mostly full-color photographs. But some graphics are clearly things only an astronomer would love. Zubenelgenubi (#99) is illustrated with a simple star field photograph with the Alpha and Beta components of the double star circled. The curious variable star Beta Lyrae (#13) is illustrated with a simple curved, bumpy line describing its changing magnitude over a twenty-five day period. And one or two of the most interesting stars in the sky, in fact, are invisible to the naked eye. HZ 21 (#51) in Coma Berenices (and similar stars) appears to have a surface rich in helium and poor in hydrogen, although related stars appear to have somehow ‘recovered’ hydrogen—it’s an on-going astrophysics mystery and HZ 21 is illustrated with a simple picture of helium balloons against a blue sky.

Only one of my favorites didn’t make the list. Aldebaran in Taurus. When I was in grade school, the first time I saw Saturn was by locating the beautiful yellow-brown planet’s position relative to the beautiful, red-orange Aldebaran. And, under Chicago’s awful skies, the first time I saw the Pleiades I found them by locating them offset from Aldebaran.

I wanted to talk about this book for a particular reason, also. There is a strange thing about astronomy. I touched on it in passing in “Saturn and Titan, And The Pleiades.”

Even the simplest thing in astronomy can sometimes have an effect seemingly all out of proportion to the cause.

Just looking at a star through a telescope can be almost hypnotic. Seductive. Literally entrancing. It’s very hard to put into words how or why something like this happens.

If you look at, say, Saturn, you see the beautiful ring system, the gorgeous colors. If you look at, say, the Pleiades, you see the sparkling pattern of white, diamond-like points against the black sky, the hint of nebulosity. You expect a moving experience from such spectacular sights.

But even looking at a single star—bright white Vega (#96), bright orange Antares (#8), whatever—creates a subjective experience that is next to impossible to capture in words.

It’s classic Goblin Universe stuff because it’s something like magic but it’s real.

And anyone can experience it any time there is a cloudless sky.




James Kaler’s Home Page













Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Cosmic Butterflies


Last week we had three or four cloudless days, but since Saturday things have been cloudy and rainy. For the last few days I’ve been taking out my star-gazing energies in re-reading some of my favorite astronomy books.

One of my favorite astronomy books is also one of my favorite non-fiction books of all time.

The book takes its title from the Butterfly Nebula. At first glance, this might seem like just a coffee table book of pretty pictures, the kind of thing you can flip through while watching TV. But if you just flip through this book, you’ll miss half the fun.

Unlike many modern science books which are written by generic science writers cranking out generic cheer-leading raves trying to “sell” science, this book is written by a professional astronomer, Sun Kwok, who has devoted his career to studying planetary nebulae. Professor Kwok and his associates have contributed directly to our understanding of how planetary nebulae form and his passion for the subject is clear on every page.

Professor Kwok reviews the history of planetary nebula studies—including early theories which have not stood the test of modern research—summarizes our current understanding of nebula formation as older stars blasting away debris and residue from their growing surfaces, and concludes with current mysteries, such as how complex structures seem to form within the expanding shells of debris.

Some of the highest technology the human race has ever created has been turned to sorting out the mysteries of planetary nebulae, from the Hubble Space Telescope to the Very Large Array radio telescope which uses radio waves to create images ten times the resolution of ground-based visual light telescopes.

The astronomers and astrophysicists who use the amazing technology do the real work, taking data and turning it into information, taking information and turning it into knowledge.

This book is a showcase of everything connected with the heavens. The phenomenal beauty hidden in the sky and waiting to be uncovered and deciphered, the cutting edge technology taking in data from across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, and the brilliant, creative and passionate astronomers and astrophysicists from around the globe making sense of things.