Saturday, March 20, 2010

How complicated can it be?

240px-Ecliptic_path My optician frowned into the computer screen: “It’s very complicated.”

No, really, it’s just a lens that keeps slipping out of a cheap pair of reading glasses.  ‘tightening a screw and a dab of glue?

He sighed, reached for a screwdriver.  “No, not that.  It’s the lentenachtevening.”

Lente I recognized: spring season, similar to Lent Term at Cambridge.   I leaned in: his screen held several paragraphs from


  He gestured, nodding.  “What day is the equinox?  It says it can be between the 18th and the 22nd?”

It’s today,  the 20th, the first day of spring.

I taught astronomy at Cascadia College: it’s not complicated.  Easter is complicated.

Equinox is the precise moment that the  sun shines vertically above the equator, twice each year.  Days and nights are of equal length, 12 hours each, at every location on earth.  Yes, there are refractive and scattering effects of the atmosphere that make this not exactly true, but close enough.

Equinox advances by roughly six hours each year, occurring at 12:44 last year, 18:32 this year, 00:21 next year.  In four years it advances a full day, but the date (almost) always remains on the 20th.  This is the cumulative effect of there being 365.25 days in a year, with the leap year adjustment working to hold the date steady.

He fiddled with my glasses, adjusted the frame and the lens, handed it back; I was still reading the Dutch Wikipedia article.  You know, darned if it didn’t say that there was a span of possible days, along with a  technical note about solar precession.

“Complicated.”, he affirmed, shaking his head..

So, I had a fun afternoon trying to track this all down, no luck yet finding the reason.  But there is, indeed, a steady shift of the Gregorian calendar relative to the tropical year.  As  a result, vernal equinox moves progressively earlier, always fallingg on March 20 or 21 between  1797 and 2043, but falling on March 18 for the first time in AD 4092.

So, yes, it’s complicated, but only when talking about it with the Dutch, taking the very (very) long view….

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Is Sarah Palin the modern Bacon?

Francis_Bacon Sarah Palin

No, there is a link, beyond Palin’s published fondness for bacon burgers…

Francis Bacon, born 1561 in England, is considered the father of science.  He was among the first to publish an experimental method for scientific inquiry, part of a total reconstruction of the sciences, arts and, indeed, all human knowledge.  Bacon started from two beliefs (Jones1969), 1) that virtually everything that had so far passed for knowledge was, in fact, error, but 2) that the human mind is still an adequate instrument for obtaining knowledge.

Mankind had fallen into a state of hopeless error because of bad habits: “The human intellect makes its own difficulties”.  He compared the mind to a mirror, “true and fit to reflect the genuine way of things”, but one that has become corroded (“strangely possessed and beset”) by false assumptions and faulty logic.  If the surface could be restored, then it could, again, see the genuine light of nature.  Then his inductive methodology could provide a new way forward.

Thus, he wasn’t just advocating change, but, rather, a return.

While thinking about Bacon’s philosophy, I chanced to read a recent commentary of Sarah Palin’s book, Going Rogue, in the NYT Review of Books:

Her conservatism hinges on the not-so-tacit assumption that the average, hardworking person, equipped with the fundamental, God-given ability to distinguish right from wrong, is in a better position to judge, on "principle," the merits of an economic policy or the deployment of American troops abroad than "the 'experts'. Desiccated expertise, of the kind possessed by economists, environmental scientists, and overinformed reporters from the lamestream media, clouds good judgment.  Virtuous ignorance, characterized by passion, sincerity, and principle, is the solution.

Thus, she isn’t just advocating change, but, rather, an ideal of return.

The similarities in philosophy are striking, even if they sometimes reach opposite conclusions.

  For Bacon, overreliance on classical and medieval scholastics, even when they contradict simple observation, was the error. 

  For Palin, overreliance on enlightenment and modern experts, even when they contradict common sense, is the error.

But both believe that “Truth” will write in it’s own fair hand upon our intellects as soon as faith has made them ready (and empty) to receive it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A bit of idle surfing

I’m bound a bit closer to the apartment today; I’d hoped to take advantage of the warm weather to ride south along the river, but found that someone had vandalized my bicycle overnight.  Nothing major, but they pulled the stem out of one tire and left me flat. It will take a day to get a replacement and get things back on the road (note to add inside bicycle parking to the list of apartment essentials).

So, caught inside, I caught up with some reading and some idle surfing.

An article about ChatRoulette led me to a new social Web site that  randomly connects people using the application.  The twist is that it’s a video connection, not just text chat.  In the abstract, this could give you an unexpected window into homes, laboratories, and offices worldwide.  In practice, its absolutely creepy, connecting with an endless array of slack-jaw’d teens in gritty dorm rooms.  ‘Depressing and monotonous.

In contrast, How I Ran an Ad on Fox News is a fun vignette from online magazine Slate.   In it’s march to take over the world, Google is now selling television advertising time at absurdly reasonable rates (it suggests how broad the cable media landscape has actually become).  Slate takes up the challenge and gets good response; maybe I should consider an experimental media buy for the business.

David Reeves - Creations of Anotehr KindWhile the Internet is accused of causing the  destruction of print media, it really has been a boon for visual media.   Many aspiring artists have brought their works online to display, to sell, to talk about, displaying a real richness of methods and subjects.

I like to explore the space using StumbleUpon, as plug-in that randomly skips around sites within a category.  Flicking through Painting or Photography produces a lot of variety, most of good quality.  I like to couple it with the firefusk plug-in, which downloads a gallery of images in the same directory, saving a lot of clicking when I find a promising work.

Watercolour by David Reeves - Creations of Another Kind

Monday, March 15, 2010

Op de radio

 Headshot.  Prep image high and low res, color and b/w as cropped.  Email it to me, I'll forward it to him once I have payment.

A high school friend, Al Grzybowski, called the other day and asked if I might be willing to do an interview for his radio show  Al is a serial entrepreneur himself, having done work in drug discovery prior to his second act on the air, and it was fun to catch up with is ideas and advice as well as having the chance to tell my own story.

The segment has posted on Al’s home site; you can listen to it here.