longerthoughts

Longer thoughts from @david_shane

Links I liked, 5/18/2015 – 5/24/2015 (Economics, Superconductivity, Classical Liberalism)

1. EconPop – The Economics of Elysium

Actually I enjoy all these EconPop videos – brought to you by the same guys as that (more famous) Hayek/Keynes rap battle.

2. The Civic Project of American Christianity

An article from February that might be titled, “Did American-style liberalism undermine itself from the beginning?”  Not sure how much I agree with it, and I haven’t read the response pieces yet.  One of the reasons I’m a bit more optimistic than many of these authors when it comes to cries that “Christians are going to be excluded from the public square!” is because I know that the heartbeat of many progressives is “isn’t it so terrible that such and such a people were excluded from such a such a place where they would have thrived?”  Of course you might ask, if they really believe that, then why do we in fact see efforts to exclude Christians from the public square?  I don’t know, I suspect it’s a mix of things – for some people all the talk of inclusion really is just pretense, for others it isn’t but they aren’t leaping to defend people who aren’t like them because, well, humans just don’t do that very naturally.

3. LCC PHYS252 – Magnet levitates over superconducting disk

Hey, a little video from my class last semester.  Some explanation here.

4. Jeweller says he has been bullied, threatened

Lesbian couple discovers the jeweler for their wedding (who happily served them) is a Christian, demands their money back.  Internet outrage mob of course jumps aboard.  What really got me, though, was the claimed that the jeweler, who clearly serves all, was pro-discrimination, while apparently people who pick and choose who to do business with based on religion are not?  Beg pardon?

5. Review: The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War

I read a book.  It was good.

6. In Praise of the Dying Art of Civil Disagreement

I do think, in some quarters, to disagree civilly with someone is taken as a sign that you don’t believe in either the truth, or the importance, of what you’re saying.  And that’s sad.

7. Why religion will dominate the 21st century

It matters because theology has consequences. The post-Enlightenment secular worldview tends to treat religion as nothing more than a private hobby. It rejects out of hand the notion that people’s spiritual beliefs matter in a broader context. When evolution tells us we’re just genes trying to spread, when economists tell us all we do is maximize our self-interest, when psychologists tell us we just want to get laid — we become convinced that humans act on nothing but narrow material desires.

But that’s just not true. As a matter of fact, human beings are spiritual beings first, with a natural orientation toward transcendent realities. More prosaically, to state the obvious, human beings make decisions partly based on how we understand our self-interest, yes, but also based on our worldviews, on our vision of what is true and good and beautiful.

Downed Tree

This downed tree, near Lansing’s Sycamore Creek, brought to you by a beaver.

Links I liked, 5/11/2015 – 5/17/2015 (Russia, Christianity, Cemeteries)

1. Pew: Evangelicals Stay Strong as Christianity Crumbles in America

There have been so many stories taking this poll as their starting point that it was hard to know which to share.  But essentially churches that give in to the surrounding culture on the hot-button issues of the day are dying, and those that aren’t are stable-to-growing.  Also interesting to note that atheists have one of the lowest retention rates of their children – meaning their children are especially likely to convert to another religion.

2. In Detroit, Jewish cemetery survives within GM auto plant

Just an interesting story via Sarah Brodsky about a cemetery entirely enclosed by a GM plant.

3. The “least of these” are not the poor but the Christian baker, photographer, and florist

While the Bible does emphasize care for the poor, they were *not* the subject of Jesus’ comment about “the least of these”.

4. Do Baltimore Schools Need More Money?

There is a graph you see around a lot showing (inflation adjusted) spending per student as a function of time since the 1970s, and test scores as a function of time since the 1970s – the former goes way up, and the latter barely budges.  Why that little fact rarely enters into discussion about education funding I cannot say.  This article does something similar but looks at funding across states and again finds very little correlation between funding and learning.

5. On conservative religious activism, the numbers speak for themselves

Everybody knows churches care more about the politics of sexual morality than they do about poverty – unless, that is, you actually look at how they spend their money.

6. Russia: Twenty Feet from War

We in the West think that using nuclear weapons in almost any environment would be crazy, and a full-scale war with Russia will probably never happen – at least rhetorically, Russia doesn’t seem to share those sentiments.

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Our find this year from the East Lansing Art Festival.

Links I liked, 5/4/2015 – 5/10/2015 (Poetry, Banned Books, and Microwaves)

1. A World Waiting to Be Claimed

A nice poem via Trevin Wax.

2. Banned – an interview with John Dickson

A few centuries to go from banning books because they don’t accord with official Church teaching to banning books because they do.  Somehow I don’t think this guy will be mentioned by the organizers of Banned Book Week.

3. It is the Mystic Patriot who Reforms

I’ve shared that exact Chesterton quote related to city growth myself before.

Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing — say Pimlico. If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico: for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; Pimlico would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved. For decoration is not given to hide horrible things: but to decorate things already adorable. A mother does not give her child a blue bow because he is so ugly without it. A lover does not give a girl a necklace to hide her neck. If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is a mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.

Chesterton is always relevant, eh?

4. Signals that baffled astronomers for 17 years traced to observatory’s microwave oven

Oops.  Nah, it sounds like they always knew it was interference, they just weren’t sure the source.

5. Justice for Melissa Anne Bingham. Ten shot in Baltimore Thursday night.

One of my gripes with US Media is that we have Harm and harm.  Capital Harm is bad things that happen that are also politically unacceptable – a racially motivated shooting of someone by a police officer is an example.  Harm gets swarms of media but is actually quite rare.  Lowercase harm is the far more destructive force, in this story ten shootings with at least three deaths during just another night in Baltimore.  Maybe we should care a little bit about what caused them too.

6. Kirsten Powers: ‘Safe-space’ America dangerous to dissenters

In case you missed that: A differing viewpoint is an act of violence.

And finally…

Photo of our neighborhood this week

Photo of our neighborhood this week

Links I liked, 4/27/15 – 5/3/15 (Evangelicalism, Vietnam, Exoworlds).

Hello after a long time – I have decided to reboot the blog in a low-key manner.  All of this stuff has been shared this week on my Twitter – but I realized that when I’m mobile, I generally find stuff to read via blogs through the Pulse app on my phone.  What about other people like me?  So I’m going to try sharing, once a week, links I found interesting the previous week, with some small comments from me.  In no particular order then…

1. All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Evangelicalism

Matthew Milliner, a former Wheaton College undergraduate, describes his disenchantment with some of the shallowness of evangelicalism (e.g., worship songs that feel like rebooted pop songs).  But then, reading old mystics of Catholic and Orthodox fame, he is surprised to find much of the same (e.g. finding words to express their praise of God in the secular poetry of the day) and comes to appreciate where he came from.  And now he teaches at Wheaton.

2. Last Days in Vietnam

A good, and sad, two-hour-long PBS documentary recommended by someone over at Ace of Spades blog.

3. 20 Exoworlds are now available for naming proposals

If you have an “astronomy-interested” club or organization, you can submit a name for one of twenty discovered exoplanets.  Proposals will then be voted upon (following some screening, I’d imagine).

4. The Wild Ideas of Social Conservatives

A nice piece by Russ Douthat.  He makes a point I’ve made before that we are now at a place where if something cannot be easily quantified, then it doesn’t exist to us (especially when it comes to setting public policy).  But his bigger point here is “isn’t it strange that we keep ridiculing the predictions of social conservatives when in fact they’ve built up a pretty good track record over the last 50 years or so?”

5. What if Students Could Fire Their Professors?

A little article via Sarah Brodsky mainly shared for its observation that students who have poorly rated (by them) professors often do better in later courses – nobody likes a taskmaster.

6. SpaceX mile-high escape test will feature ‘Buster’ the dummy

The SpaceX crew capsule will have an escape system – the Space Shuttle didn’t have that.

7. MI lawmaker pushes state home school registry

Interesting reasoning here I thought – essentially argues that one of the reasons we need public schools is because it gets children away from their parents for a time and we can may sure everything is OK at home.  Since we can’t do that for homeschooled students we need a registry.  (Never going to happen with the current MI legislature.)  Also I had not seen an estimate before – perhaps 3% of Michigan students homeschooled.  I would have put it higher.

Bec enjoying a flower

And now here is Bec enjoying a flower in East Lansing.

Historical Information on the Chesterfield Hills neighborhood of East Lansing, Michigan

When we were considering purchasing a home in the Chesterfield Hills neighborhood, I tried to find historical information about the neighborhood online and could find precious little.  To my pleasant surprise, after moving in I found the previous owner had left behind some papers that contained just what I was looking for!  So I have digitized them for the next owner-to-be browsing the interwebs.

Some notes from the Oct. 4 MIAAPT meeting

Always a good meeting with these fine folks. Some notes about what happened, mainly for my safe-keeping but public in case they might help someone else. No claim is made to accuracy, they are notes!

Morning Presentations

  • Ron Schlaack of Delta College talked about a new program for middle school teachers they have where the teachers spend 54 hours shadowing an actual manufacturing job site, then attend a college class where they develop a related lesson plan for some sort of STEM education project. The motivation for the project was the realization that the picture people have in their head for “manufacturing” is actually quite old-fashioned – modern manufacturing workers are expected to be more flexible and better educated.  I believe it was also Ron that mentioned a project where students build their own speakers for under $5, then test them with a function generator. Might have to look into that online.
  • Michael LoPresto gave a talk I have mixed feelings about, involving assigning different numbers to different colors so that color subtraction and addition can be done mathematically. An article may appear in The Physics Teacher shortly. I liked his transmission graphs for colored filters.
  • Alanna Pawlak from MSU gave a talk on the “epistemic games” students play – basically, how they think about problems.
  • Michael Faleski of Delta gave a talk on the ballistic pendulum, where he pointed out that linear momentum is generally not-conserved during the collision because of forces on the pivot (but it would be for a string). Imagine a rod in space!
  • Christopher Nakamura of Saginaw Valley State talked about a math camp they run there. Two projects they do – the “energy can”, basically a rubber band and weight inside a can, more info online I’m sure, and a “chain fountain” that he said we should find on Youtube.
  • Laurence Tarini of LCC gave a talk about making the signs make sense in geometric optics.

AstroNite Workshop

I went to the AstroNite workshop, an event UofM Flint puts on once per semester involving a planetarium show, some outside telescopes, and a lot of additional activities. The additional activities include:

  • a “Mars Lander” themed egg drop;
  • pipette rockets that might make a cool SMEE event at LCC. Pipette connects to straw, and another little straw forms the rocket. Kids like to decorate them and such;
  • traditional discharge tubes spectroscopy;
  • Fun with an IR camera! Rajib pointed out that you can see shadows in IR, which he uses to do some “ghost debunking”.
  • Make your own comet using dry ice and a smattering of other ingredients. I actually am going to try this at SMEE.

They also bring in animals for AstroNite and talk about how light pollution affects them. They also do a supernova demo involving a collapsing hobermans sphere – you can see the bounce when the “core” collapses, throwing off the rest of the star. You can bounce a tiny ball on a big ball to demonstrate this momentum conservation effect. They also did the well-known can implosion demo.

Keynote Talk

The keynote speaker was Jeff McMahon of UofM, and he talked about the cosmic microwave background radiation. Some cool stuff from his talk:

  1. I liked his characterization of astrophysics as simply particle physics using bigger machines than we can construct on Earth.
  2. He said that when Hubble (the scientist) was making his measurements, many people thought our galaxy was the universe, there were no other galaxies. (“Spiral nebula” – other galaxies – were thought by many to be part of our galaxy.)  I had no idea.
  3. He had a nice “expanding graph paper” model to show how, in an expanding universe, every galaxy can see every other galaxy running away from it, without any galaxy being at the “center” of the expansion.
  4. On a related note, he criticized models of the Big Bang that portray it as a large explosion happening “over there”. The whole universe was on fire.
  5. I also liked his explanation of dark energy. Suppose you throw a baseball as fast as you can into the air. Even if you throw it with greater than escape velocity, it’s still going to slow down as it rises. If you instead observed it speeding up as it got higher, you would either conclude that you don’t understand gravity (maybe it turns repulsive at great distances, say), or that there is some other force involved here. But what we observe in the universe is an accelerating expansion – dark energy is the unknown Physics stuck in to allow that expansion.
  6. I also liked his quick justification for why there is so much dark matter in the universe – look at a galaxy and what you find is that there isn’t enough visible matter in that galaxy to keep the outer stars gravitationally confined to it. So there must be added mass we can’t see. That is all.
  7. Ah, but the exact nature of all that dark matter isn’t known. One crazy/spooky idea he threw out is that dark matter is even filling the room you’re in right now, but only interacts with normal matter gravitationally. Otherwise it could have its own parallel-universe thing going on. (Just like neutrinos are all around us but unnoticed.)
  8. The cosmic microwave background, when first measured, was thought to be exactly uniform – because it is quite nearly uniform. Inflation, then, is the unknown Physics invented to help explain this uniformity (and the large-scale mottling we do observe). If you have a mottled quilt, for example, but zoom in on any one spot of that quilt, it will look uniform. Inflation just blew those uniformities up.
  9. He had a nice graphic showing how polarization allows you to look at light coming from two different directions. Remind me to steal it when we talk about Rayleigh scattering.

Make and Take Worshop

I made some stuff with James Gell and Steve Dickie. They had an electrophorus, which we already make in PHYS200/252 at LCC, but they also added a special light so you could tell which was charge was moving when you get shocked. We also made this cute little pull tube to help students think about modeling – you’ll have to email me if you want more info about that. I also brought back a little 3-color LED bulb connected to a watch battery – though it only produces 3 colors (red, green, blue), by color mixing you get additional colors, so a great LCC PHYS120 demo. He also did a very simple demo where he had washers tied at equal spacings on a string, then dropped them into a pie pan – of course the frequency with which they hit the pan increased as they fell. He then tied them at increasing distances (5, 15, 25 apart), and then they hit the ground at equal time intervals. Fun little demo.

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Walking the bulk of future writing over to Medium

How long can we stay in one place in the 21st century?  I seem to be migrating over to Medium for new writing.  I like the layout and community there, the simplicity of the stats, and the integration with Twitter.  Already have a couple articles up:

Yes indeed, I do write about everything.  I will keep this blog “open” for especially personal posts – but usually I write with a larger audience in mind (not a terrible thing on the internet, where that larger audience is always present.)  Anyway, keep tabs on me there to follow my writing – or follow me on Twitter, I almost always tweet what I write.

LCC Student Showcase

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Here at Lansing Community College we recently finished out first, hopefully annual (or biannual?) showcase of student work, which we named “Starscapes” since LCC’s mascot is the “Stars”, and we seem to name everything Star-something! We had about 25 student groups sign up to show off their work, which isn’t bad at all for a first run, and attendance was good enough that we ran out of cookies on the first day! (The event was two days total.)

I was quite impressed with how well my presenting students did – this was probably their first poster presentation for many of them, yet they seemed quite at ease. I was proud of them. But what impressed me even more was the crowd – some people attended because they were members of classes, and the professor brought the whole class, but many other people, a surprising number of people to me, just drifted in because they were curious. It reminded me of something the founder of Khan Academy said,

There’s a lot more demand for people who want to just improve themselves than anyone would have guessed.

These weren’t people getting course credit or anything, they were just curious, they just wanted to learn. And they were an encouragement and a joy to talk with – I answered quite a few questions, even though I hadn’t personally put together any of the presentations! We have a great community of learning here.

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G.K. Chesterton on the difficulty in defending a philosophy

What follows is a great quotation from chapter VI of Orthodoxy.  Every time I want to share it with someone I cannot find it, concisely, anywhere on the internet.  Therefore I am putting it here!

It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it. And the more converging reasons he finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked suddenly to sum them up. Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, “Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?” he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, “Why, there is that bookcase . . . and the coals in the coal-scuttle . . . and pianos . . . and policemen.” The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible.

There is, therefore, about all complete conviction a kind of huge helplessness.

The book is highly recommended.

Albert Einstein on science and religion

I think most of us have heard the quotation “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”. I don’t think most of us have heard it in context – indeed, a quick web search revealed a lot of questions about whether the quotation was even validly attributed to Einstein. From Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium, then…

Now, even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up. But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

Feel free to click through and read the whole thing – I can just about guarantee to you that you will disagree with some of it, but it is an interesting read. I especially appreciated…

But when asking myself what religion is I cannot think of the answer so easily. And even after finding an answer which may satisfy me at this particular moment, I still remain convinced that I can never under any circumstances bring together, even to a slight extent, the thoughts of all those who have given this question serious consideration.

I’ve said before – we just need to abandon the world “religion”. Our tendency to categorize belief systems which are very different from each other all as “religious” confuses discussions (no wonder it is hard to define “religion”). I would prefer the term “worldview”, which also makes it clear that everyone has one, whether yours invokes God or not (as indeed, even some worldviews usually called “religions” have little to say about a god or gods).

And also,

For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.

Here here.

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