Archives

All posts for the month October, 2006

I blogged about Eestor recently. That’s not an anomalous energy patent, but an electrical capacitance alternative to the internal combustion engine. Will it work commercially and socially ? The point is that there may be reasons for engineering scepticism, but the basic physics is not (yet) in doubt.

Brian Josephson has been a regular champion against sceptics in physics, who let their scepticism get the better of their scientific judgement, when anomalous effects are reported. “Cold Fusion” (more accurately low-energy or solid state fusion) is alive and well despite the heavy guns of received wisdom in physics arrainged against it.

Sam sent me a link to Steorn Technology. Like low-energy fusion it seems to be an anomalous excess energy effect, something magnetic, but the difference here is that the “discoverers” and patent holders are giving nothing away as to what the physics might be. In fact, assuming the whole thing is not just some start-up funding scam, their approach is to say we’re just engineers, we challenge serious scientists to explain it. Their FAQ sums it up,

Question :
Is this a:
1. Marketing ploy. Such as “Steorn: Remember what we did with a fake product, think what we can do for your real one.”
2. A scam
3. You are too weak technically to realize it is not really a free energy device

Answers:
1. No
2. No
3. The Jury will decide.

Be interesting to see how their quest progresses. Like the low-energy fusion anomalous energy, explaining the physics is one thing, harnessing technology is another.

The point here is that the impossibility of a perpetual motion machine is such an anathema, that the possibility of an as yet unexplained natural energy source is too easily discounted. Josephson – Nobel physicist – goes so far as to suggest that physics is not the most fundamental reality, though to be fair by that he means physics as current explained by quantum mechanics.

Which brings us to J.S.Mill again. Claiming to believe in the contingency of scientific knowledge is one thing. Acting that way is another. Which of course is back full circle to Chris Argyris too … the behavioural distinction (in social organisations) between “espoused theories” and “theories in use”.

Here in northern Alabama, there are a dozen churches of every christian denomination per square mile as far as the eye can see. The locals also seem to “celebrate” Halloween as a major social and commercial event. We’ve been unable to move for pumpkins, fall-wreaths, packets of “treats” and the smell of cinnamon in the local shopping malls for a full month already.

Last night, Saturday, seemed to be the Halloween party night around town, people in the parking lots dressed to party, lugging cases of beer to their SUV’s, and many in Halloween fancy dress – all ages.

Pretty chilly in town last night – mid-40′s I’d guess – the band (Yes No Maybe, excellent by the way) wearing several layers and warm jackets, warming their fingers on the radiant propane heaters between numbers on the patio-stage at Humphrey’s. Younger groups dropping in and out of the bars in fancy dress, presumably planning to move on to the Halloween party at the local nightclub later. As I left town at about 11:30pm, there were still queues to get into the downtown parking lots.

Some seriously elaborate fancy dress – one amazing Gene (Kiss) Simmons get-up, put me in mind of Tommy Womack’s (cod) piece a couple of nights earlier, but that’s another story. The point though, is that given the “conservative” locale, the young girls were almost without exception in skimpy schoolgirl, nurse, french-maid, little-devil, dominatrix, geisha stereotype outfits.

The quantity of cold-weather-exposed flesh put me in mind of the geordie lasses on the riverfront in Newcastle on a Friday night, or the geordie lads in the Gallowgate end when Saturday comes. Is it just me ?

Sitting here I’m watching an angler on this bright crisp morning dry-fly fishing by the footbridge across the pond outside our window. He’s also ground-baiting, throwing handfulls of breadscraps onto the water in the general area. The kids feed the fish off that same bridge most days – tilapia, sun-fish, catfish, whatever. The Kingfisher and Herons make the most of the opportunities from the bridge hand-rail too. What of it.

I’d mentioned to a serious-angler colleague a couple of weeks ago about how much fishing there was locally, on ponds / lakes as well as the Tennessee river and its backwaters, and how often people seemed to catch significant fish on at least two out of three casts – Bass and Catfish as big as your leg, or forearm at any rate. Too easy, where’s the sport if the fish are that plentiful and dumb ?

He recalled a story of fishing near his previous home on lake Ontario, where huge Carp and Bass seemed to congregate near a power station warm cooling water outlet, and consequently many anglers also congregated. (I had similar experiences at the outlet from the Guntersville dam earlier this year.) The profusion of fish and bait, including ground-bait, seemed to be self-reinforcing. The more people fished, the more fish there were. Eager fish would even intercept baited hooks or thrown ground-baits before they hit the water. 

Fishing-fest or feeding-frenzy ? 

(BTW the dry-fly guy doesn’t seem to have had a bite yet.)

I seem to be spending my blogging life catching up from large gaps these days. Either “pressure of work” business reasons or intense distracting correspondences in “another place”. So again this is a quick round up.

Reading :

Finished Dostoevsky’s Karamazovs. Overall it’s a whodunnit (and why) exploration of psychology and motivations, real and rationalised, life and death, love and hate, children and the elderly, lovers, families, friends, colleagues and strangers, so perhaps not surprising that the “Most magnificent novel ever written.” cover blurb is a quote from Sigmund Freud. Close on a thousand pages of small closely spaced print, and so many character names, so a tough read in practice despite the wit and intrigue. Ultimately Alyosha’s “wise head on young shoulders” relationship with the village children is the one that seems to matter most, so perhaps no coincidence they form Dostoevsky’s final forward looking scenes. Worth the effort.

Delayed picking up Wittgenstein (again), since I started into J. S. Mill. On liberty is just so much common sense and so easy to read. His scope is limited by the western context of Victorian Christian “received opinion”, but Socrates “examined life” is the root of the message again, the recognition of “excluded middles” and truth as “active meaning”. I’m through his introduction and the liberty of thought and discussion, still have individuality as an element of well-being, the limits of social authority and his “applications” to go. Based on earlier secondary references to Mill, I had already concluded he was ahead of his time, but yet again even he would say, “nothing new under the sun”.

Strangely having acquired Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations, I recently found myself in a meeting of a group of data modellers (who shall individually remain anonymous here) amongst whom I first became aware of Wittgenstein eight or nine years ago. I’ll refer to two of this group as (A) Alan and (B) Bill. I told the anecdote elsewhere, of Alan (a philosopher by training) who confided after one meeting way back then, his regret at introducing the group to Wittgenstein, since the Russellian logicians amongst them / us had latched all too easily onto the Tractatus, but ignored his later work. Well, at the recent meeting, Bill expressed a realisation, often mentioned as an aside in previous encounters, that we were really modelling what is known (imperfectly), rather than what exists (in reality) … ie despite liberal use of taxonomy and ontology and set theories, our model was essentially epistemological rather than ontological. I mentioned my recollection of Alan’s warning all those years ago. Anyway, Alan, who was not at this meeting, and in fact has not been involved with this group for five years to my knowledge, coincidentally contacted me just two days ago having lost contact and recently re-discovered me through Skype. We had a brief “what are you doing these days” catch-up chat, during the course of which I mentioned to Alan that I’d used his name in response to Bill’s realisation just last week. Spookily, Alan responded that his original realisation of the epistemological significance over ontology, had arisen during a presentation by none other than Bill, some ten years ago, where Bill’s particular application involved a domain where most data was collected by remote / indirect measurement, where they could only infer or guess at the reality being probed. As Alan said, that’s when he realised (from his earlier philosophical training) that this was in fact more generally the case.

The consilient convergence continues.

I was about to write up this “spooky” synchronicity when there were just the two items linked by coincidence, but now we are three.

Someone (who shall remain nameless) used the phrase “falling from (my) grace” in an e-mail to me today and, when I hit the CD button in the car on the way home from the office, the next track (on Muse’s Absolution CD, already part-way through in the player) was the track Absolution. Singing along at the top of my voice as one does, imagine my surprise when I found my self innunciating the line “Falling from your grace”.

Not surprising therefore that I remarked on a character in the film “Monsoon Wedding” speaking the line “I seem to have fallen from your grace.”

Of course such “synchronicities” say as much about how our consciousness works as anything else, but the irony is that Matt Bellamy, leader and lyricist with Muse, is a conspiracy theorist of the highest order in his lyrics and publicly expressed opinions. Which is a pity because he has a way with both words and sounds, and an interest in the things that matter, even if he’s a little short on wisdom. There is time and I hold out hope on that score.

Sorry, but these two links are BBC news stories too … 

Actually that’s not quite true, this one is a link from a link from a BBC story, but I was intrigued by “The Jamestown Foundation“. Clearly a “fear-based” reds-under-the-bed, al-qaeda-behind-the-sofa, vigilante basis, but coupled with what looks like a non-partisan “neutral” reporting line, with well informed sources.

This one ithough, s the BBC, on education something we’ve been banging on about on both MoQ-Discuss and Friends of Wisdom. I thought this was a very telling comment from Sir Richard Sykes (Director of my old college) ..

“A science curriculum based on encouraging pupils to debate science in the news is taking a back-to-front approach … Science should inform the news agenda, not the other way round.”

Science isn’t perfect, but there is a viscious circle if over-simplified reporting of science becomes the basis by which science is defined to future scientists. So how should science inform the news agenda ?

I’m a few days late with the Google / YouTube story, but if you’re being fair I’ve made it pretty clear I’m a fan of both already. What I like about this BBC news story, is this line …

It’s social networking in overdrive.

 … the other key dimension to this true semantic web quest.

The other interesting point was the comparison of YouTube with MySpace, which though not entirely fair, does say something about Murdoch jumping on the blogging bandwagon five years too late and missing the point.

MySpace … was once a place to hang out if you were online and aged between 15 and 25 is rapidly going mainstream and becoming a middle-aged society. That is just, like, so uncool. 

I can just see the Hamsters announcing they’ve got a MySpace web-page. Oh, really they already do ? Mind you they’d be flattered to be seen as middle-aged. Stick to the axe Slim. 

Been having the usual “300 channels but nothing on” moan about US TV, even premium cable, recently … find yourself watching a couple of sitcoms, a few of the usual police / detective / hospital soap dramas, and re-runs of old BBC dramas if you’re not careful, before heading screaming for YouTube and the blogosphere. Occasionally you do just have to channel hop or sit through a film just to take in the advertising element to appreciate the culture you’re in.

House is an exception. Creative and addictive, even if as a Brit it involves double takes on Hugh Laurie in the leading role. Management guru Tom Peters rates it too … the relentless act, act, act, test, test, test style, and treatment of students as peers he mentions. I particularly like the managers who have to deal with his style, but clearly understand how to value it.

Blogging still a bit sporadic since the move to the US, something to do with the new domestic habits as much as anything else.

Reading habits are mainly bedtime or when sitting in the countryside during a weekend picnic or evening sunset, though it’s starting to get too cold for the latter.

After concluding Rand, I went onto Machiavelli’s Prince and was a bit disappointed, perhaps the exploits of the Borgia’s just seem tame these days ;-)

Been enjoying Dostoevsky’s Karamazov Brothers, finding lots of quotable passages, though still somewhere like a third to go.

To catch up on a couple of must-read references I’ve skipped over earlier, I recently acquired ..
Wittgenstein – Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
Wittgenstein – Philosophical Investigations
J S Mill – On Liberty, The Subjection of Women and Chapters on Socialism

Reading the preambles and intros, original and new and skimming their content, they appear to be what the doctor ordered. Dismayed to find that “PI” looks like the most difficult read of the bunch.

Whenever I do get to browse favourite blogs, I seem to get hooked on the YouTube finds of Bifurcated Rivets. Addictive stuff.

In other places I’ve been active on MoQ-Discuss and Friends of Wisdom recently. Took the trouble to read Nick Maxwell’s autobiographical piece earlier today. Sounds familiar ? Taking up where Popper left off put me in mind if David Deutsch.

Latest BBC “In Our Time” is an excellent discussion on Muslim philosopher generally know as Averroes. Worth listening to in it’s entirety. (Ibn Rushd on Wikipedia)

Points of interest for me …

The etymology ….  (I have a thing about spotting B’s and V’s) …. but it’s so clear here. The patronymic family naming prefix “son  of” or simply “from” or “out of” in the Av, Ab, Ave, Aven, Von, Van, Bin, Ben, Ibn, (and all the European son / sen suffices of course) The whole B, V, M, Mp, Mb, N blur. The two versions of the name here are just alternate pronunciations of the same underlying concept of being someones child, and clearly just an evolution of the sound in the telling from Proto-Indo-European (Aryan) origins. But I’m no expert.

Ave … Rroes / Rush
Ibn … Rushd / Rushdi / Rashid

(The other example that fascinates me is the R & T combinations that Pirsig dwells on.)

Afterlife, as Aristotle’s continuity of intellect, in limbo in the Dante “Divine Comedy” sense, but also as a continuous (eternal) semantic web whose Platonic forms are merely intersected by temporary brains and individual minds.

Philosophy as the definitive reading of religious texts. Supported by rationale that only the examined life can provide (“look around” says the Quran). Hierarchical interpretation from the head of a “church” down simply being different abstractions or metaphorical simplifications for different practical purposes. From scholars and theologians down to the “masses”. (Nice lead into St Thomas Aquinas later “scholastic” work.)

Fascinating. Nothing new under the sun.

HQ: Cedar Park, Texas
CEO: Richard Weir (ex IBM)
CTO: Carl Nelson
Founded: 2001
Product: Patented Barium Titanate Super Capacitor “400HP Rapid Charge Battery”
VC Backers: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

Feel Good Cars
Ian Clifford
Toronto

I suggested in a recent Friends of Wisdom thread, that  I didn’t really “care” whether global warming was caused by human activity, nor even whether it was “real”. The answer to neither question changes my belief that we should be concerned enough to work out what to do in response to the facts.

That is, we can learn from history, but not in simple “we did that and caused this, therefore if we do this we can achieve that” kinda ways. Life’s just complicated enough. 

Anyway, at first glance, this graph (linked also via Jorn) looks like a pretty random distribution of historical temperature fluctuations …. until you notice the right end of the graph has years as it’s time axis, and the left has hundreds of thousands of years. No idea how good the source data or its representation are, or even whether the western equatorial pacific temperature is a representative data point, but the graph is indeed scary. It’s 400,000 years since we had a period with average temperatures like the last 5 years, and for the last 100 years we’ve been 2 or 3 standard deviations higher than the long time average for the last 1,350,000 years, a period covering several ice-ages and retreats !!!

Plenty of caveats about the distortion of a graph with such a skewed distribution of data points and axes, but it still certainly seems significant.