Stale Thoughts and Broken Links

Old posts from my weblog.

(Click here for posts on geophysics and the energy industry.)


Christopher is five years old today! We had a really rockin' party in the park yesterday.


Reuters: Judge offers clarification on Napster injunction.

"U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel Friday said the burden remains on the world's major music labels to provide file names of songs they want banned from Napster's ever-evolving directory of music."

Cnet: Napster filters clean house.

"The legal pressure has finally forced Napster to give ground in its filtering strategy, changing the way it is blocking music so that even many songs not identified by record companies as copyrighted are being screened out. As a result, the availability of music on the service this week has fallen steeply."


I got an email from Scott Detiveaux, a close friend in high school and my apartment-mate as an undergrad at LSU. Scott says:

"I've recently been reading a book on the making of the atomic bomb. A number of things in the book have made me think of you."


"The author spends a great deal of time describing the upbringing and the foundational work of early 20th century scientists such as Rutherford, Bohr, Plank, etc. Many of them had a great interest in philosophy and that interest helped to shape their discoveries in molecular and Quantum physics. There was also apparently a great deal of debate about predetermination. Einstein's quote was apparently `God does not play dice.' Anyway, thinking of these things led me to remember some of our late night conversations."

Ah, yes, undergraduate philosophy and beer. The good old days.

Incidentally, it seems like Physics Today does a special issue on the history of the Bomb every other month. For instance, if you want to learn more about the German project, you might want to look up this issue.

Detiveaux replies: "I'm not so sure that it was beer that induced the philosophical rants."

Because I've been thinking about cosmology recently, I've come to realize something about my motivation, when I was a child, for being interested in this topic. I think I harbored a belief that if I understood *how* it all began, then maybe I would understand *why*. In the back of my mind, maybe I still believe that.

My asking why there's a universe assumes that it has a purpose and, implicitly, that I somehow share that purpose.

It's silly of course. I know (cognitively) that any purpose I have is self-defined. Asking the universe to give me a purpose is an exercise in futility.

So I've given up on asking *why*. Fortunately, with respect to cosmology and other things, *how* is still a very interesting question.

If Orson Welles had had a blog.

[pointer via Scripting News, of course.]


Slate: The "New" Creationism.

"`Intelligent design theory' is just a fresh label, a marketing device -- and, evidently, an effective one."

My wife's brother got married on Saturday, so we spent the weekend in Plano. It was a nice wedding. Our kids had a great time.


John Dvorak: The Jinx.

"Much of the low-level family bootlegging that goes on is actually accidental. If a machine fails completely, for example, the operating system may have to be installed again. People grab whatever disk they can find when they do a reinstallation. Families usually have only one well-organized member, and the disk tends to be taken from that person."

[Link via Scripting News.]

Reuters: R.E.M. Star Sorry After Facing Air Rage Charges.

> grandmotherly voice: He always seemed like such a nice boy!


Hooray, it's tax day!

Today my wife the CPA will have a steady stream of clients picking up their returns.

And then this yearly deadline that destroys our spring will be past.

Bug report --

Houston Chronicle: Making tax day less trying. IRS wants more electronic filers.

"So far, the IRS has not found a way to make filing electronically a free or direct process. You still have to buy the software or hire someone to prepare the return."

> My brother sent me this link yesterday.

"This is the artwork causing such a rumpus at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe NM. Seems like a good Easter card. Happy Easter from Charles and the bikini Virgin Mary."


> In writing about how Big Bang defeated Steady State the other day, I hope I didn't imply that the big issues of cosmology are solved. What started it all, the nature of space and time -- all still unanswered questions, with surprisingly little progress made in the past 40 years.

> But this new observation from three years ago is holding up, and it is turning on its head our understanding of the fundamental laws of nature --

Science News: A Dark Force in the Universe. Scientists try to determine what's revving up the cosmos.

"In 1929, Edwin P. Hubble discovered that distant galaxies are fleeing from one another as if the entire universe is swelling in size. Ever since, astronomers have been hoping to answer a key question: Will the expansion of the universe, slowed by gravity, go on forever, or will the cosmos eventually collapse into a Big Crunch?"

"`For 70 years, we've been trying to measure the rate at which the universe slows down. We finally do it, and we find out it's speeding up,' says Michael S. Turner of the University of Chicago."

> The stuff in that article about "quintessence" sounds like pure hand-waving, but so is the inflationary epoch, which is an essential piece of the big bang theory. So our understanding of the universe is still more holes than cheese.

> Here's a new alternative proposal to the big bang --

CNN: Report: Universe began by colliding with another.

> Talk about hand waving! But the article implies that there may be some astronomical measurements that would discriminate between the big bang and the new "big crash." If so, this alternative origins theory does a major service to cosmology just by motivating some new work, like the steady state theory sixty years ago.


"I looked down at her wrists. They were scraped raw and bleeding. The out sides of her hands were bright red, too. Her nose was bloodied and red marks were starting to swell up on her face. I thought again about the six cars in front of me that had driven past her."


I was talking to geophysicist Dan Huston on the phone yesterday. During our conversation, he mentioned Fred Hoyles's suggestion from 1981 that global warming is good because it might stave off a coming ice age.

Fred Hoyle, you may recall, is the famous astrophysicist who proposed the steady state theory in the 1940's as an alternative to the big bang. Steady state was an intriguing hypothesis at the time, but subsequent observations resolved the contest firmly in favor of the big bang.

To this day, however, Holye refuses to acknowledge that the evidence has declared his theory the loser. Just last year he published a new book, reviewed here, which attempted to revive the debate. (The Physics Today review notes some of the deciding evidence that Hoyle conveniently ignores.)

Anyway, we need gadflies like Hoyle. By challenging the conventional wisdom, they keep the science sharp. But when they're totally crocked, we shouldn't be afraid to say so.


Associated Press: Judge Mulls Pulling Napster's Plug.


I'm way behind on "processing" my family photos. I just posted a few new pics from November.


I left the office late last night almost nine o'clock. Cater-corner across the street from my office is a small Italian restaurant that stays open late and on weekends, even though they usually have only one or two clients at those hours.

At an outside table on the curb, a well-dressed young black couple was buying a meal for a homeless derelict. He had a scraggly beard and looked like he needed a pair of dentures. The derelict was seated, and the couple was standing beside the table serving him gourmet pizza and a beer. They seemed to be enjoying their spontaneous act of generosity; the derelict appeared uncomfortable with their incongruous roles, but eager for the beer.

As I neared the parking garage, I was approached by a shabbily dressed skinny black man walking a bike. He said, "Please, man. I'm hungry. Can you help me?" I gave him an evil eye and walked on past.

What would you have done?

> My brother's response: "Do you carry a firearm for your late night encounters with Houston's indigent?" Winner, Bleeding Heart Liberal of the Year, 2001.


Earthquake in Seattle: Earthquake As Artist.

Congratulations to NCAA Men's Basketball Champions, Duke University.

Walter Kessinger

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