The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Thursday, September 27, 2018
Current Affairs ... Economics/Business ... Technology ...

We hear that many in the Democratic Party today are warming up to the idea of socialism; and that many young adults now favor socialism over capitalism.

One of the strongest criticisms of socialism, in academic terms anyway, came from the 20th Century philosopher and economist Fredrich Hayek. In a nutshell, Hayek said that the problem with socialism, relative to free market capitalism, regards information. According to Hayek, free markets make good and efficient use of economic information, automatically – no one oversees the information flow, but it works out in a very good way. Whereby, in a socialistic economy controlled by a centralized government, human intervention gets in the way of information flow, and makes the overall economy very inefficient.

A New York Times article put it this way —

[Hayek] argued that most of the knowledge in a modern economy was local in nature, and hence unavailable to central planners. The brilliance of a market economy was that it allocated resources through the decentralized decisions of a myriad of buyers and sellers who interacted on the basis of their own particular knowledge. The market was a form of “spontaneous order,” which was far superior to planned societies based on the hubris of Cartesian rationalism.

A web site dedicated to this “knowledge problem” includes this summary of Hayek:  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:11 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Friday, August 31, 2018
Current Affairs ... Technology ... Weather ...

Eight years ago, I posted some words here about whether climate change was as serious as it was being made out to be, and whether the evidence that global warming was being caused primarily by man-made CO2 and other greenhouse gasses was as solid as climate advocates had asserted. Today, given the evolving weather trends over the past decade or so, I tend to be more sympathetic to the view that climate change is real, and I generally agree that the trend is towards higher temperatures
(both air temps and sea temps) and more instability in established weather patterns.

Personally, I don’t think that emission reduction or green energy strategies are going to do much to stem the change, at least not in the next few years or even decades. In the longer term, technology will make our industrial and transport infrastructure more efficient and less dependent upon carbon-based fuels. “Renewables” (aka “green energy” sources such as wind and solar generators) along with nuclear power now meet about 21% of global energy demand. This will get close to 25% by 2020.

Renewables and nuclear might hit 50-50 parity with carbon-based fossil fuels by around 2070, according to some optimistic projections; these scenarios assume that carbon-based fuel use starts declining by 2020. However, a 2016 US Energy Information Agency projection (made during the Obama Administration) indicates that carbon fuel usage will continue to grow thru 2040. In the EIA scenario, renewables and nuclear account for  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:42 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, April 12, 2018
Religion ... Society ... Spirituality ... Technology ...

I want to talk today about a young Roman Catholic priest from Minnesota who seems to be getting more and more attention amidst the faithful for his social media skills. His name is Father Mike Schmitz, and his videos and use of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram are quite impressive. He appears to be one of the first, if not THE first, Catholic spokesperson to make truly effective use of “the new media”, even though it’s been around now for more than a decade. I think that Father Mike is someone to watch, if you at all interested in the American Roman Catholic Church; I get the feeling that he is a rising star, someone you will be hearing a lot more about.

During the 1930’s, Father Charles Coughlin became know as “the radio priest” and got a national following for his commentaries during the Great Depression and World War 2 (especially considering his often fiery political views, such as his support of Huey Long and his opposition to US involvement in the War). After the War, the Trappist Monk Thomas Merton used the increasingly popular paperback book medium to gain fame through his conservative pro-Church writings. His 1948 autobiography Seven Storey Mountain was said to have inspired thousands of young people to a Catholic clerical vocation. Then in the 1950s, Bishop Fulton Sheehan became the “television priest”, supporting Catholic doctrine with a popular TV show. Then came Mother Angelica and her pioneering use of cable TV in the early 1980’s, with the formation of the EWTN network. The Internet and its social media infrastructure has been awaiting a charismatic Catholic spokesperson to come along and defend the magisterium on YouTube and Facebook, and it looks like Father Mike is the guy. You can check him and his thoughts out at his Ascension Ministries website channel, his page on the University of Duluth Newman Center site, on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

This guy has a HUGE footprint on the Internet !!

Father Mike has a LOT of videos out, over 100; I have watched about 10 or 11 of them so far. Each lasts about 6 or 7 minutes, and each roughly follows the format of a priest’s sermon at mass. For the most part, Father Mike  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:26 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Friday, August 18, 2017
Current Affairs ... Society ... Technology ...

I usually avoid offering “real time” commentary on significant national events, as my inner nature is more tortoise-like than hare-like. I try to wait a while and let things cool off, if possible, before making judgments. Given that I graduated from engineering school way back in 1975 (BS Industrial Engineering summa cum laude), and then at age 47 took a half year break from my working career for a rigorous software training program (Chubb Institute’s long-gone “Top Gun” program), I was immediately drawn to the story of James Damore, the former Google software engineer who wrote and distributed a letter questioning Google’s diversity policies.

As you probably know, Mr. Damore was subsequently cashiered from the “Googleplex”. I.e., he was fired for criticizing Google’s vigorous efforts to recruit and maintain female technical and engineering personnel (mostly software designers and coders). These efforts include hiring preferences favoring women over men, on-the-job support programs for women only, and mandatory training for male technical staff warning against both explicit and implicit (i.e. sub-conscious) negative actions and attitudes regarding female techies. What made it tricky for Google was that Damore cited a variety of scientific studies to support his argument that the predominance of male technical staff is “natural” and nothing much can or should be done about it.

Over the past week or so, there have been a whole lot of opinion pieces about Google’s firing Mr. Damore. People with liberal / Democratic party biases generally support Google, while those with conservative / GOP sympathies think that Google was wrong. Also, more men oppose Google’s decision and more women seem to support it. But of course, you can find plenty of cross-over individuals. However, on average . . . ah yes, “on average”. This is at the core of what got Damore in trouble.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:48 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, June 12, 2016
Current Affairs ... Technology ...

When I was a kid, I really enjoyed building plastic models from Revel kits. Most of the stuff I built was military in nature, because military stuff seemed a lot more technically interesting than the civilian stuff. E.g., a Navy ship had a lot more do-dads than a cabin cruiser or even an ocean freighter ship. And military planes were a lot more zippy than a Cessna or a Boeing 707. I especially like fighter jets. I had my own air force in my room, ready day and night to take on any 1/48 or 1/72 scale enemies of liberty!

So, despite my general opposition to war, I’ve always stayed up on the doings of the US Air Force, especially with regard to its fighter fleet. I have a post from a few years back reflecting on the new multi-service F-35 Lightening 2 jet, and all the troubles it was running into. Well, it’s now 5 years later, and although the F-35 is finally taking to the air in the cause of defending freedom, its troubles have not gone away. In fact, the US House has ordered the Air Force to study the option of building more of the F-22 Raptor fighters, which the F-35 was supposed to more-or-less supersede. (The F-22 is mostly an air-superiority fighter, whereas the F-35 is supposed to do it all, from close ground combat support to bomber interception. However, it is now feared that a jack-of-all trades plane like the F-35 could be vulnerable to the increasingly lethal stealth fighters that Russia and China are now developing, including the T-50 PAK-FK and the J-31.)

Because of financial considerations, most observers do not expect the F-22 to be revived. The F-22 is allegedly a good high-end interceptor and dog-fighter jet, but reviving a very high-tech production line after wrapping up the program back in 2010 would soak up a big chunk of the USAF budget, and cut into its many other procurement priorities (F-35, B21, KC46/KC-Y, C130J, T-X trainer, Minuteman replacement, etc.). But given the increasingly sophisticated fighters that Russia and China are now building, there is legitimate concern that the handful of existing F-22s (186) might not be able to  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:13 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Public Policy ... Technology ... Weather ...

The world today is a really, really complicated place, and it’s hard sometimes to figure out what makes it better and what makes it worse. One confusing issue regards natural gas as a major energy source. There are some big disagreements as to whether we should encourage or discourage the production and use of natural gas. On the plus side for natural gas: as with petroleum and coal, it’s a practical way to provide energy where ever and whenever you like, in large or small quantities; it can be stored without energy loss; it’s relatively cheap and easy to produce, especially given newer drilling technologies such as fracking; there is plenty of it in the USA and in many other places around the world; and it burns relatively cleanly, without smoke and with half the carbon dioxide by-product that coal emits per unit of energy obtained (e.g. the BTU), and 2/3 of what oil emits.

Natural gas requires infrastructure to safely utilize, e.g. a network of storage tanks and pipelines and pumping stations — but most of that already exists in the US. It’s not quite as portable as a petroleum product (e.g. gasoline and diesel fuel), given that gas is harder to contain than a liquid. Thus, natural gas may not be a good fuel for most transportation needs, although there are some buses and trucks that can utilize it. But for many uses including home heating, power generation and commercial/industrial processes, it seems to be superior to both coal and oil.

Given that human-made climate change is now widely recognized and accepted as a real and significant phenomenon, a phenomenon that could have very costly and disrupting effects on human civilization in the coming decades; and also given that climate change is largely driven by carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, it would seem that we should encourage  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:22 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Religion ... Society ... Spirituality ... Technology ...

I recently posted a blog about an article that I came across via Real Clear Science regarding whether the human race could become extinct in the foreseeable future. Now I want to ponder another recent article from Real Clear Science regarding extinction. This time the question is whether religion is on the way to becoming extinct, courtesy of the wonders of modern science. The article was written by RCS editor Ross Pomeroy, a zoologist and biologist. OK, with those credentials, you can assume that Pomeroy knows a thing or two about extinction, and about the wonders of science. But is he right that science will inevitably become humankind’s new religion? To me, this smacks of “scientism“, which I have already expressed my reservations about.

Pomeroy claims that science will become the new “faith of humankind”. He notes the writings of Sir James George Frazer, who said that religion, science, and magic are similar conceptions, providing a framework for how the world works and guiding our actions. Frazer said that humanity moved through an Age of Magic before entering an Age of Religion. So, Pomeroy asks, “is an Age of Science finally taking hold?” At the end of his article, he concludes that

One of science’s primary aims is to seek out knowledge that will hopefully better our world and the lives of all who live on it . . . so not only does science dispel religious belief, it also serves as an effective substitute for it.

Given that Pomeroy is a scientist himself, we expect that he will provide empirical evidence to support his claim. And indeed, he does offer some interesting statistics  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:44 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Current Affairs ... Science ... Technology ...

I regularly peruse the Real Clear Science web site and usually open up two or three articles from their latest daily list of interesting science articles. A frequent theme of the articles that the RCS editors select for their list regards “how the world could/might/will end”. If you are in a gloomy mood, then you can find examples of such articles here and here and here and here and here.

A few days ago, the RCS daily list included an article from the Science20 web site entitled “Could Anything Make Humans Extinct In the Near Future?” The author (Robert Walker, an inventor and computer geek) reviews more than fifteen possible candidates, including climate change, a comet or asteroid strike, pandemics, overpopulation, runaway nanotechnology, nuclear war, etc. According to Walker, the human race is pretty hard to kill. Many of the candidate “extinction events” could severely reduce our numbers and would probably end civilization as we now know it; but somewhere on the planet, a band of humans would mostly likely live on despite all the calamity.

(FOOTNOTE, strangely enough, Walker did not consider an H-Bomb “Doomsday Machine” like the one in the movie Doctor Strangelove. But then again, in that movie, the good Doctor himself came up with a way to save humankind with a scheme to send small groups to live in caves for the next 25 years. So perhaps Dr. Strangelove was just another example of how hard it is to totally eradicate the human species.)

Overall, Walker seems pretty optimistic that the homo sapiens species is quite robust and thus is not headed for extinction in the foreseeable future. However, there is one thing that does seem to scare him. And if  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:30 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, December 31, 2015
Current Affairs ... Society ... Technology ...

I recently read about how some western nations (including Great Britain and Germany) are teaching elementary school students computer coding and programming as part of their required curriculum. Back in September, Australia made computer coding and programming a required part of the school curriculum from 5th grade on up. These lessons aren’t an occasional project or a one-semester deal; starting from the age of 10, computer programming skills become an integral part of the Australian student’s school-day. In order to make time for this, the Australian schools are cutting back on their geography and history lessons; these topics will no longer be “stand alone” subjects. A new “Humanities and Social Sciences” subject will merge the existing topics of history, geography, economics, business and civics and citizenship into a single learning area from the 5th grade on.

I don’t know all of the details of Australia’s plan, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that I don’t like it. I consider myself a science and computer geek, and I’m all in favor of using our education system to prepare today’s children for the world in which they will live (and try to make a living). And that clearly means more emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (“STEM” as the popular acronym goes). And yet . . . we can’t shortchange the classic mission of preparing our youth to be thinking citizens who can appreciate and defend the noble and yet frail ideal of civilization. Perhaps I’m wrong, but the general drift of the new Australia plan seems to put less emphasis into “humanities and social sciences”, by placing a greater share of school resources into science, tech and computer skills.

In my humble opinion, teaching 10 year olds the ins and outs of do-loops and IF/THEN statements and database queries and object instantiation is not going to guarantee them a place in the modern high-tech world. Sure, some introduction into computing logic at that age is needed; schools need to build the learning foundations that future computer people will need. But really — like an 8th grader should or even could become ready for a job with Apple or Google? Or be able to  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:56 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 26, 2015
Science ... Technology ...

In one off my past blog entries from way back in 2004, I admitted my interest in cold fusion, along with my hope that there might be something to it. Recall that cold fusion became a big topic of interest for the public back in 1989 when two chemical scientists named Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons claimed to have come up with an electrically powered table-top device that produced more energy output (heat generation) than would be expected from any known chemical reaction. Their device consisted of palladium metal dunked in heavy water, i.e. water which has a lot of deuterium; deuterium is a “heavy” isotope of hydrogen, because its atomic nucleus contains both a proton and neutron, while the regular hydrogen found in plain water has only a proton in its core. Deuterium is a necessary material in the process of nuclear “fusion”, the process which keeps the sun burning and which converts regular nuclear bombs into super-powerful “H-Bombs”. Fleischmann and Pons made a bold and ultimately unsustainable claim: that they had come up with a simple way to exploit nuclear fusion for small-scale power and energy producing applications.

If you have followed the story of science’s attempts over the past 50 years or so to harness the power of fusion in a controlled manner so as to generate heat and electricity (without blowing everything sky-high), you know that it’s a rather sad story. Since the 1960’s there have been various government and internationally funded projects attempting to devise a commercial fusion reactor; but despite all the experiments and test reactors that have been set up, fusion turned out to be a “wild maverick” that could not be tamed by “standard” technological methods. The standard methods either involve creating a super-hot bottle of gas (a “plasma”) held together in mid-air by magnetic fields, or by aiming a whole slew of laser beams at a small pellet of deuterium fuel and trying to create the crushing pressures and temperatures needed to force the neutron reactions that would break the barriers and unleash the reservoir of energy stored in heavy hydrogen’s atomic nucleus.

Why put all the money and effort into developing fusion? Well, if it could be made to work, fusion would be a relatively low-pollution energy source that wouldn’t need much input fuel; the hydrogen in a gallon of seawater would give the equivalent energy of 300 gallons of gasoline or around 16 barrels of oil. Since the USA now uses about 7 billion barrels of oil  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:31 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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