August 19, 2010


I stumbled across Conservapedia, the "trustworthy" encyclopedia. There were many gems in that internet tome, but I should to like to highlight for you just one right now.

"One way to measure open-mindedness is to test for close-mindedness, and then take the converse. A subject for our measurement can be asked if he views certain proposals as impossible. By impossible I do not mean mathematically impossible, but so unlikely as to be considered absurd. Belief in impossibility is a sign of close-mindedness, because it reflects the unwillingness of the subject to be "receptive" to the possibility."

And what if that something actually is impossible or so far outside the realm of practical application as to be impossible? Wouldn't that be a good to thing to know? And an open mind does not mean instantly agreeing with a contradicting view. It is simply listening to what they have to say on the topic. That's it. That's all. Nothing about agreement. If their arguments and evidence are sound and you have no plausible objections than great. If not, than there is no reason to believe the contradicting view is accurate or correct. An open mind listens to an idea and judges it's worth. If we have ample evidence of the mathematical validity for gravity and we have observational evidence to support the relativity based theories of gravity than we have no reason to believe that anything other than relativity must be correct. And if, or as is more likely when, we find certain discrepancies between theory and observation, we can use that discrepancy to understand where we went wrong, why we went wrong and we can figure out a better description of nature. That's some of the beauty of science. We attempt to understand our world to the extent of our ability to observe it in order to predict what we will observe next. Science always accepts the possibility that it may be wrong. But science uses it's inaccuracies to become more accurate, more correct, and closer to the truth. Or, as Dara O'Brian points out, "Science knows that it doesn't know everything ... otherwise it would stop."


August 08, 2010

Free Knowledge

Free Knowledge: As a first test run, I typed the word "music" into the search bar on the Harvard Libraries website. 277,126 entries were returned. Just to narrow down the field a little, I chose to view only music scores only. All 80,909 of them. As this was still a little wide a field for me to explore on my first journey through the site, I decided to limit my search to music manuscripts published in the last ten years. Which was a little less than ten thousand. As I like orchestral works, I limited again my search terms to just orchestral works. I finally had a number small enough to work with. I had the manuscripts for 394 orchestral works of music produced in the past decade.

Let's try another word now: Physics. This returned 67,773 entries, well below those returned for music. Which was surprising, but nevertheless we shall carry on. But which subject of physics should I click on? Physics Philosophy (1,235 entries)? Gauge fields (210)? Relativity (1,096)? Music Acoustics and Physics (580)? I think I'll combine this search with one of my other, interests, History (831). I could stay here and ponder the historical evolution of the sciences that we call physics, but I won't. The point is that I could. With this tool we have access to a vast reservoir of knowledge. For free. We can study any subject that we please, all we have to do is type it into the search bar.

Free Class: Of course, not all knowledge can be offered for free. If we want someone to dedicate their life to spreading the knowledge that they have gained than we must give them the money necessary to live. So I have no problem with paying for education, because teachers deserve some recompense for their work. But on the other hand, sometimes knowledge can be given away for free. Because what is a class, ultimately, above and beyond simply acquiring information? It's actively participating in the lesson. It is in working with the teacher yourself in order to understand. However, setting up a camera during certain classes could provide an immense amount of information to those who haven't actually attended a class. Which is exactly what Michael Sandel's class Justice does. He makes freely available on the Harvard website recordings of his classes. Now, this works rather better with his class than with some of the other things I have already mentioned. Music takes actually playing an instrument in order to fully understand music theory. Physics is sp often arcane, difficult, complex, and plain old confusing that simply having a recording of other people learning about the science is often insufficient to learn the science yourself. However this class is all about philosophy, morality, and of course, justice. Which makes it the better choice to have filmed. If you have any interest in the issues that effect us today than I suggest bookmarking this page.

Quarterly Shift: There are a large number of issues that are effecting the midterm elections coming up soon, and many that effect the White House. This article from the New York Times gives a run down of some of those issues, and how President Obama is handling them. Some of these issues have occurred since Obama took office, and some are holdovers from before. According to the article, Obama has had some losses these past two years, but is finishing with a string of wins recently. This article gives a good abstract of the atmosphere going into the final quarter before midterm elections.

Americans At War: In this article from CBS News it appears that the RNC chairman Michael Steele is preparing to wage war on the democratic party. He intends these next three months to be very difficult for democrats, both in session and in the polls. Does Steele really believe that the GOP can regain the majority in the senate this November? Probably not. He knows that by winning a handful of seats his party can confidently halt any legislation proposed by the enemy, the democrats. If this happens, than the GOP will have less reason to fear if a few republicans waver in their loyalty to the GOP. But should the GOP be working to stop the democrats at every turn, or should it be working in the best interests of the nation as a whole?

Tid Bits: And finally here's a few quick links. The first comes from TechDirt and explains to some small extent the byzantine copyright laws regarding audio recordings.

And not to leave out space, the second is a photo gallery of the recent alignment between Jupiter, Venus and the Moon. Thanks to CNN for the pictures.

Enhanced by Zemanta


August 01, 2010

News Briefs

UK To Launch Mini-Satellites: The UK Space Agency has teamed up with British company Clyde Space to launch miniature satellites called CubeSat's. These new types of satellites are cheap and easy to produce, reducing the consequences of failed experiments. The use of this type of satellite technology will spur on innovation and creativity while also teaching the skills necessary to carry off more large scale projects.

There are a number of other companies within the UK which are gearing up for a commercial space market. EADS Astrium has fostered several relationships within the industry and within the academic community, making it one of the largest space companies in the UK. Space Systems Engineer for EADS, Dr. Ronan Wall, has said

"CubeSats provide a 'playground for innovation' by enabling us to test new technology that simply could not be tried on major risk-adverse missions. The concept also ensures that we can develop the next generation of space professionals, both in engineering and science, by giving them the ideal skill set to succeed in the industry"

Business is not the only investment the British people are making. According to SpaceRef The American Conrad Awards have recently partnered with ManSat Limited, an Isle of Man based global commercial space corporation, to bring the 2010-2011 'Spirit Of Innovation Awards' to its island. The SPOIA program is a competition that challenges students to create innovative new products that can be brought into the commercial marketplace. Hopefully the next SPOIA competition can expand into more than just two countries.

There is a growing international interest in space exploration, commercial space frontiers, and enriching our lives through science and education. America has long been a leader in a number of these fields, but we must step it up in order to enter the next stage. We will no longer be competing against other nations; we will be competing to see who can cooperate the best with other nations.

Social Experiment: Have you ever gotten sick and tired of people haranguing you and harassing you and telling you what to do all the time? Of course you have! Who hasn't? Well, probably Dan Brown. But he will have plenty of opportunity to do so over the next year. You see, Mr. Brown will not only be allowing people to see him as he does stuff, people will be telling him what to do, all the time, for one whole year. It's a project that Dan is calling Dan 3.0, and you can check it out and all of Dan's other videos at his YouTube channel.

Transparency In Political Advertising: A campaign finance bill aimed at introducing transparency into certain political ads is facing resistance from republicans in the senate. If this bill gets made into law then any organization that airs political ads independently of candidates and political parties will be forced to disclose their involvement with the ads.  In this way we can potentially see the motive behind the ad and judge it's worth accordingly.

Obama - "Nobody is saying you can't run the ads; just make sure the people know who in fact is behind financing the ads."

The largest disagreement with the bill is that companies and organizations that have large contracts with the government cannot put out political ads. This seems to fly in the face of the first amendment. Any person or organization has the right to free speech, even if they have a vested interest in the outcome of an election. At the heart of it, we all have a vested interest in the outcomes of political races, even if we're not directly receiving cash and contracts from a member of congress.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement Monday that the bill is designed to "protect unpopular Democrat politicians by silencing their critics and exempting their campaign supporters from an all out attack on the First Amendment."

Maybe a line needs to be drawn when those producing the ads have a vested personal interest in the success of the campaign. Maybe blocking a person's right to free speech is not the best way to root out corruption. We must choose which path we take wisely.

Distraction: This is ridiculously petty and a complete distraction from the real issues at hand. The Iowa state's GOP is spraying a cloud of ink into the water to blind us. What's worse is that if this bill does pass (I'm assuming no amendments are lost, but are simply bumped up a number) than anytime an American citizen earns a Nobel Prize they will no longer be an American citizen. How are we to be the best and brightest nation if our citizens are not allowed to receive the highest recognition of their work? Why make it impossible for an American to become a Nobel Laureate? Every minute spent arguing and debating this is a waste of time. 

Small Business Bill Being Slowed By GOP: A bill that had been under consideration for three weeks has been put aside thanks to the efforts of the republican party. This bill was aimed at opening up the small business lending market with cash and tax breaks, as well as reducing the capital gains taxes on long-term investment in small business. Republicans argue that though the bill had been on the floor for three weeks, they have not yet had all their considerations voiced. They want more time to discuss the bill before it gets put to a final vote. Richard Shelby (R-Ala) compared the measure to the bank bailout (which has been somewhat underwhelming) and warned that this could lead to the types of risky loans that got us here in the first place. The GOP likely wants to ensure that this works better than the bank bailout and that it minimizes risky loans.

House Set To Debate NASA Authorization Act: And for those of you interested, here's a rundown of the various competing NASA Authorization Bills before congress right now. While all have their merits and weakness's, with this you can at least give them a side-by-side comparison.

Certain enterprising individuals urged people to tell their representatives to support the senate version, as the senate version comes closer to President Obama's stated amount of $812 million to be used for commercial space flight. 

Enhanced by Zemanta