Finite Understanding

I never am really satisfied that I understand anything; because, understand it well as I may, my comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand about the many connections and relations which occur to me, how the matter in question was first thought of or arrived at.

Ada Lovelace (?) ( (

A hat/tip is owed to The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe #818; however, I could find no source for the quote. I haven’t decided if it is worth the effort to go through all her papers in order to find it or not find it.

Ada Lovelace helped write programs for a computer before there was a computer to run them on. She translated articles on Babbage’s analytical engine from other languages. She experimented with electricity and tried to write a calculus for the brain to explain why we think and feel the way we do.

Not only was she born before her time, but I would say that her time has not yet arrived. Imagine what she could have achieved had she been born tomorrow?

[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine.

Ada Lovelace (Wikipedia)

Featured image: a watercolor of Ada found on Wikipedia


Carl Sagan always used to say that when he was trying to explain something to someone, he would go back to that time when he didn’t understand it, and then he would retrace his thought steps so that he could make it absolutely clear, and that’s one of the infinite number of things I learned from him.

Ann Druyan

hat/tip to SGU #787. I found an alternative version of the quote here.

World’s Oldest Dog?

The history of just how and when dogs split from wolves is unresolved. There’s a general agreement among scientists that modern gray wolves and dogs split from a common ancestor 15,000 to 40,000 years ago, explains Brian Handwerk previously for How dogs became dogs, however, is contested. Some research suggests that dogs were domesticated by humans once, while other studies have found dogs were domesticated multiple times. Exactly where in the world wild canines became man’s best friend is also disputed. The origin of the human-animal bond has been traced to Mongolia, China and Europe.


Hat/tip to the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe #753

50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

Listening to the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe #732, they briefly got into the fact that they would be releasing that episode on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Having spent several hours on that day listening to podcasts about the historic occasion, I was jarred into putting an entry on the blog that mentions what is hands down the best podcast about the moon landings that I’ve run across so far.

It’s Thirteen Minutes to the Moon from the BBC, one of several podcast moments that I shared in the newsletter for Sunday. If you only listen to one podcast about the moon landing in your life, listen to this one.

Stitcher – BBC’s 13 Minutes to the Moon

BBC’s artwork for the program. Beautiful design.

As for the other things in the newsletter apropo to the event, was just a cool website. It was mentioned in one of the early episodes of Thirteen Minutes to the Moon. The one about software, I’m pretty sure. All kinds of interactive stuff to do there and the only way to experience it is to click on the link and go there. The Texas Standard stories are pretty self-explanatory. Then there was this film that was advertised far and wide right before the anniversary,

Trailer: Chasing the MoonBluray

I’m looking forward to getting a chance to watch that movie. Since I couldn’t do more than link the trailer, I didn’t even bother to include it in the newsletter that day. It was already getting more exposure through podcast advertising than I could ever give it by sharing the trailer.

…and that’s the way it is.

Walter Cronkite

Nuzzel’s internal functions are shielded from archival for some reason. The Wayback Machine returns an error when I try to save the newsletter to the archive. I’ll just cut and paste the text of the damn thing here, that way there won’t be an emotional outburst when I go back to find the thing and it’s gone here in a few years.

Notre-Dame came far closer to collapsing than people knew. This is how it was saved.
The New York Times – Elian Peltier – Jul 16, 8:27 PMPARIS — The employee monitoring the smoke alarm panel at Notre-Dame cathedral was just three days on the job when the red warning light flashed on the evening of April 15: “Feu.” Fire. It was 6:18 on a Monday, the week before…More info…

BBC World Service – 13 Minutes to the Moon
BBC How the first moon landing was saved. The full story of the people who made Apollo 11 happen and prevented it from going badly wrong. Theme music by Hans Zimmer. Added, go to My Music to see full list. ranthony I’ve been sitting on this podcast until the 50th anniversary day rolled around. That was Saturday. Pretty interesting podcast so far. I’m up to episode 5.

Hack the Moon
Hack the Moon – Jan 27’One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ But it almost didn’t happen. Apollo 11 was the mission that enabled… Full Story Astronaut Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot for the Apollo 11 mission, visited the MIT Instrumentation Lab…More info…

Why Apollo 11 Wouldn’t Have Happened Without Lyndon Johnson
Texas Standard – Michael Marks – Jul 19, 8:14 AMOn Oct. 4, 1957, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson, and his wife Lady Bird, were entertaining friends at their ranch in the Texas Hill Country. The Johnsons often took after-dinner walks – a habit they developed after he had a heart…More info…

How Space Exploration Provided A New Career Path For Women
Texas Standard – Alexandra Hart – Jul 19, 8:55 AMParish Hirasaki was not planning on being a scientist. At least, not when she first got to Duke University. “I was sent off to college to find a husband,” Hirasaki says. “And to get a teaching degree so if god forbid anything…More info…

Look Ma, I Can Write Again!

…at least briefly. I’m starting a entry on what happened and why after I finish typing this up, but I can finally use the right hand without pain again. Two weeks of forced TV viewing has finally come to an end. I thought I was going to lose my mind. At least I still had my podcasts to keep the mind busy in between binge watching all of Better Call Saul, Altered Carbon, Man in the High Castle and finally finishing the HBO series The Pacific. I’ll probably have time to at least start Electric Dreams before I’m fully recovered.

Two of the greatest scientific achievements of my lifetime made the news during the weeks I was recuperating.

Reality provides us with facts so romantic that imagination itself could add nothing to them.

Jules Verne, the SGU quote of the week.

I think that is appropriate given this episode. I mean we have a picture of a black hole, what’s more awesome than that?

…Except maybe fossils from the day the dinosaurs died.

Steven Novella

So I’m pretty happy to still be here to ponder which of those two achievements is the more important one.

Superbowl? Not Really.

I’ve watched one football game since I stopped sharing an apartment with a football fan. That game was Superbowl 40. Football fans will know which game that was, and because of that, where this post is going.

The last roommate I had before getting married was a Dallas Cowboys fan. He loved those Cowboys. Since the TV was his, and it was in the living room, we watched the Cowboys play every week, and I would be the devil’s advocate every week. “Who are the Cowboys playing this week? Yeah, I love those guys.” It led to some good natured rivalry, especially since I really didn’t give two shits about the game in the first place.

When I was living at home with my parents, back in the stone age of the 70’s, my dad would never miss a game that was being broadcast. Football. Basketball. Baseball. Hockey. If it was a sport and it was being broadcast, my dad was watching it. He lamented that I was too small for football myself because he wanted me to play like he played in high school. He did get me to try out for basketball. I didn’t make the cut, which was no surprise to me or Mitch, my wingman in that foray into sports.

I wrestled for a few seasons, and I had a perfect record. I was pinned every time I got on the mat. I even played baseball for a few seasons. I have my jersey around here somewhere to prove it because mom saved it for me. I have no idea why she saved it, I was visibly terrified of being hit by the baseball every time they’d send me out onto the field.

Found it.

…And with good reason. I have the worst hand-eye coordination, come to find out. Dad played softball every summer until his health degraded to the point he couldn’t play, and his participation in that game lead me to try playing softball myself on one of my employer’s teams. For one season. During warmup one afternoon I was holding the mitt too low and the ball tipped the top of the mitt and plastered me right on the lip. I can feel the tingle where the lip split on the inside of my mouth to this very day. Between that and the gravel raspberry I got all up and down my left leg sliding into base one time, I decided that sports really just weren’t my thing. I’d be better off sticking to video games. The finger and wrist sprains are more easily dealt with.

We watch so few sports in this house that we joke that the TV is broken, sports-wise. We tell guests “Nope. It won’t tune sports. No idea what’s wrong with it.” The one time we had a guest insist on watching her game we banished the fans into another room so that they wouldn’t interrupt our movie watching. I will admit to occasionally keeping half an eye on baseball scores. I like baseball, even if I can’t play it. Baseball is the real American game, not football. American football is rugby played with helmets and pads.

George Carlin – Baseball and Football George, as usual, has it right.

But the Wife always liked the Seattle Seahawks. She didn’t know anything about football, the game, but she had studied statistics for some fantasy football league that she was part of one year, and Seattle had the best all-around players at the time. She won a lot of matchups that year because the individual players all did really well, so she never forgot them. Years later when the Seahawks made it to the Superbowl for the very first time and she decided she had to watch that game because her boys were in it. Consequently I spent the next two hours explaining what a fourth down was. What the ten yard line meant. I mean, I knew all the mechanics of game play because dad had drilled all this crap into my head, so I can watch and follow a game even though I consider the games just slightly more interesting than watching paint dry.

There is one thing that I do care about. Injustice. Bad calls by referees. Players cheating and getting away with it. Teams that don’t deserve to lose, but end up losing anyway. That is what happened to the Seahawks in the one game we had ever bothered to watch together in thirty years of marriage. The Seahawks lost because of a bad call. The Wife was pissed, I was pissed, and we’ve never turned on a football game since. It was Super bowl Sunday yesterday, and I did notice that cheatin’ Tom Brady won again this year. That makes this just another game I’m glad I didn’t watch.


The SGU skeptics start episode #605 (February 11th, 2017) gushing all over the Superbowl game and how it was such a great game, even though they thought it sucked for the first three quarters. Then the underdogs come from behind with an amazing drive to a successful finish in the last quarter.

Here’s my question. If this was such a great game it makes being a football fan worthwhile, how many Superbowl 40’s do I have to watch in between each Superbowl 49? How many crappy ass games do I have to watch before I get a good game? From my perspective the answer is “too many,” no matter how many games it is.


Raw Milk is Woo. Goat’s Milk is Not. And Yes, Plastic is Bad

This week on the SGU Cara decides to trash all things Hippy and all things Austin with the following line,

These are the places where they sell, like, raw goat milk because apparently cow milk is unhealthy. And they have only organic free-range bleah.

Cara Santa-Maria SGU #705

Cara deciding to trash all things Hippy isn’t surprising. There is little at the typical health food store that warrants a special trip there. Little, unless you happen to have special dietary needs. If you have food allergies. If you are lactose intolerant. If any number of food-related issues bother you, the health food store used to be the only place you could go to find relief. Considering that skeptics would claim you couldn’t be allergic to foods, until those allergies could be demonstrated, and still flame-on when anyone mentions the word gluten, panning all things health food related is completely understandable.

I just happen to not react to goat’s milk like I do cow’s milk. So I can drink goat’s milk and suffer little or no ill effects. I still can’t eat pizza, that is too much cheese of any kind, but at least I can put a slice of goat cheese on my hamburger and not have to worry about reacting to the lactose in the cheese. And the best place to get that kind of food is still at a health food store. I buy my oat milk, my Nada Moo, goat cheese and goat milk, and try to restrain myself as I walk past the chocolate and liquorice on the way to the register.

The Wife, who can consume all the cheese she wants because she was descended from Mongols who were raised on yak’s milk, has some very unflattering things to say about us Mediterranean types whose ancestors tended goats and sheep, but I also have some insults I could hurl in return considering she’s pretty much 100% Irish. I won’t utter them because I don’t feel like being beaten up by any Irish who might read this and take offense. I have to be able to sleep sometime. It all comes down to genetics and how your particular gut came to be in the here and now.

Which brings me to the idea of drinking raw milk. If you are drinking raw milk and you don’t milk the cows (or goats. Or sheep) yourself, you are just asking to get sick and possibly be killed by the naturally occuring bacteria found on the udders and in the milk of any animal. And I laugh every time I read the label on cheese and it trumpets made from raw milk. This is just another marketing ploy like organic or natural, since the process of making cheese kills most of the bacteria that lives in the milk. That is why we started making cheese from milk in the first place. If you are still concerned about the possibility of food poisoning, don’t get the cheese made from raw milk. Pasteurization is a good thing. It’s why we have milk on supermarket shelves today.

I mean, we could irradiate the milk and skip the pasteurization flavor change problem, but the fantasists who think that pasteurization is bad also think that irradiation of food is bad. There really is no way to win over everyone. There’s always going to be one or two of them that have to stick their fingers in the electrical outlet before they’ll believe that electric shocks are painful, and there will be at least one guy that swears electrical shocks make him feel better and so recommends you shock yourself two or three times a day.

Steve’s suggestion that bulk foods were useful, while the other offerings at the health food stores were not, is also slightly off-cue. The reason that goods are offered in their own sealed containers should be readily apparent to anyone who gives this much thought. But for those who don’t think a lot, I’ll spell it out. Adulteration or contamination of the product, which was a problem back in the days when everything was offered in bulk quantities. Some nefarious grocers would dilute the products offered and charge the same rate. This is essentially how all vodka is made, but very few people know that their vodka was distilled to 190 proof at the distillery and then cut in half with water at the bottler. There is also the problem of some anonymous others tampering with the bulk products and no one noticing (think Tylenol) as an Austinite, and someone who frequents health food stores for his oat milk and goat’s milk products, I could buy a lot of products in bulk. I just don’t.

Austin is the birthplace of Whole Foods and a few other now-defunct health food chains. I’m an owner at Wheatsville Food Co-op. I could shop in bulk products if I wanted to. I don’t shop in bulk products because I don’t want to have to trust every person who passes by the bulk products bins not to drop their chewing gum in there with my morning steel cut oats. I’ll take the time to recycle the packaging, that is fine by me. I like branded, labeled products in sealed packages. It’s probably the most American thing about me.

I would rather the packaging not be plastic packaging, plastic packaging being the reason that health food stores came up at all in that Skeptic’s Guide episode. I try to avoid plastic packaging when I can, but it is nearly impossible to avoid plastic when it comes to food packaging. You can count me in for testing new packaging that isn’t plastic. Oh, and Jay? You want plastic that breaks down on its own? That also existed once upon a time. They tested plastic bags that degraded in the sun faster when they first rolled out plastic bags, back when everyone was worried about paper demand destroying all the forests. That plastic turned into micro plastics too, just like regular plastic. The only way to avoid this is to create disposable items from something other than plastic. Say, compressed corn starch.

Genuine People Personalities

It’s only going to get worse. I mean better! (I mean worse.) Pretty soon, these devices will be everywhere. Hell, we already have six of them in our house and for some reason Spotify is sending us another one just because we have a family account. So, you should get used to the idea of walking around a supermarket and having conversations with the food displays. Because that’s going to happen. Hell, they might even know your name. Yes, that’s right. In the near future, every bar will be like walking into Cheers.

Ars Technica

I don’t own any of those talking devices, and I loath talking to my phone trying to get it to do something for me. I don’t want AI, I want an intelligent interface that gains me access to the information I need. A head-up display I can work with eye movement. Neural interface. I don’t care, I just shouldn’t have to vocalize to my devices so that they will do the things I want done. Talking is highly overrated.

…Also? This.

Next Gen | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix – Aug 14, 2018

Hat/tip to the Skeptics Guide to Universe (Facebook)

Aether, Ether, Higgs?

When is a field not a field? When you call it aether, apparently.

“Aethers were invented for the planets to swim in, to constitute electric atmospheres and magnetic effluvia, to convey sensations from one part of our bodies to another, and so on, until all space had been filled three or four times over with aethers … The only aether which has survived is that which was invented by Huygens to explain the propagation of light.”

James Clerk Maxwell 1878, Encyclopedia Britannica
Popular Mechanics

The image above comes from the SGU on Facebook, their Facebook status referencing an article in Popular Mechanics. The article details the experiment that proved that alchemical aether didn’t exist back in 1887. This isn’t the first time that the SGU and its host Dr. Steve Novella have ridiculed the notion of aether as a substance that permeates all matter and gives it definition. What I find interesting is that scientific people, people like the brothers Novella, recently celebrated the discovery of the Higgs boson.

Particle physicists in particular were thrilled that they finally discovered the Higgs, the final piece of the puzzle that completes the standard model of particle physics (and if you have a grasp of what that is, you’re doing better than I am) they now have all the particles that represent the forces and parts of nature that were theorized centuries ago. Except that they don’t have a complete explanation of the forces of nature. Science can’t explain gravity or point to the particle that carries that force, and it can’t explain quite a few other things that are pretty important to the functioning of the universe. Things like dark matter and dark energy. So they don’t really know as much as they like to pretend they are certain of. But that is beside the point of this article.

Particle physicists and the skeptics on the SGU both accept that there is a thing called a Higgs field, a thing related to the Higgs boson I mentioned previously. The Higgs field, a thing that permeates and defines all of the physical world that we can see around us. They simply refuse to equate this field with aether. This is a discussion that has been aired on the SGU several times now. I can almost recite it by rote having listened to all of the nearly 700 episodes of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe. I’ve got the argument in my head. It won’t go away.

To put it bluntly, for the purposes of discrediting alchemy, proving that alchemical aether was a delusion makes this particular experiment important in the annals of history. Alchemy is bullshit unless you are playing Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft, in which case you can do magic all you want, because it isn’t real. But in the real world alchemy is bullshit. This experiment proved that fact without a doubt.

However I fail to see the distinction between the Higgs field and the primordial notion of aether. Does it not permeate everything that exists? Does it not even exist in a vacuum? Does it not define all matter as we know it? How many other things are there out there that we don’t know about that enable existence as we know it? One? A thousand? We don’t know that, either. How about we admit we don’t know things? It really doesn’t hurt that much to admit it.

“Relativity actually says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of matter pervading the universe, only that any such matter must have relativistic symmetry. It turns out that such matter exists. About the time relativity was becoming accepted, studies of radioactivity began showing that the empty vacuum of space had spectroscopic structure similar to that of ordinary quantum solids and fluids. Subsequent studies with large particle accelerators have now led us to understand that space is more like a piece of window glass than ideal Newtonian emptiness. It is filled with “stuff” that is normally transparent but can be made visible by hitting it sufficiently hard to knock out a part. The modern concept of the vacuum of space, confirmed every day by experiment, is a relativistic ether. But we do not call it this because it is taboo.”

Laughlin, Robert B. (2005). A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down. NY, NY: Basic Books. pp. 120–121. ISBN 978-0-465-03828-2. h/t to Juan Calsiano on Facebook