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HSCI 2: A Cultural History Of Physics (CHP 1) - Foward & Preface

People refer to books like this as "tabletop" or "coffee table" books - the kinds of things you sort of have laying around to open for discussion or fun. But I find it hard comparing this text to a photograph collection.

A Cultural History of Physics is a book I revere, although I have not "read" much of it yet. But it is something I respect so greatly because of the scope and effort put into its construction. Maybe, decades from now, I might try to endeavor a similar attempt, or update, should I ever feel so competent or brave.

In truth, this is a hard-science perspective on history - and it is a part of a larger goal of mine to view various trends humanity's development. Thanks to the progression-based nature of scientific development, it is an interesting measurement to juxtapose to time, as well as the more finicky, temperamental, and rather egoic development of human society and its mechanisms, in and of themselves. But more on that as we move forward. Speaking of Forwards, here is my take on the one in CHP.


Written by Karoly's son, Charles, it is a brief look into what Karloy's life was like. I don't know him personally of course, but it would appear that Karloy's passion and perspective was well received by Charles, a man at the forefront of much in terms of our modern technology.


As someone who has made feeble attempts at similar endeavors at my life, I can appreciate the earnesty and forhright humility in which Karolyi ends the first paragraph he wrote for his preface:

The reader may therefore take those parts of this book that deal with physics and technology to be authentic - to the extent that any book can be regarded as such - while the interpretation of the historical and philosophical background bears some stamp of the subjective, and to a certain, perhaps permissible degree, that of dilettantism. 

 Simonyi states his work has three goals:

1) a work for the public understanding of science
2) a textbook for college students
3) a primer in the history of physics

He hints at a fourth goal, an encyclopedia; indeed, the amount of references in this book is immense - which is why I am using it as my 'bible' in my ultimate project. Thank you, Karoly Simonyi, for your painstaking efforts.

Next entry HSCI 3: CHP Introduction 0.1 

Comment: Soros - US Could 'Ruin' Russian Economy With Release of SPR Oil

My friends over at recently posted a discussion the title of: Is The Strategic Petroleum Reserve A Solution To The Crisis in Ukraine? To be frank, this discussion is the kind that I particularly don't like, because I find it as operating in an intellectual silo; as such in my comment my Critic hat is squarely placed on my head.

In my view, any sort of extended discussion about the SPR significantly impacting oil prices and thereby damaging the economy of Russia is a bit flippant. At best, such ideas are something that "vote4energy" or other lobby groups for oil (or perhaps in particular for shale oil) would trumpet as significant - but in reality shouldn't be a part of serious energy policy discussion - and definitely should be checked firmly when it comes to serious foreign policy or geostrategic discussion.

George Soros was recently quoted as suggesting that the US use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) as a deterrent to Russian aggression in Ukraine.  I thought we could examine the validity of that premise.

The SPR, an emergency supply of oil maintained by the United States, is currently near capacity at about 700 million barrels. In our new world driven by shale oil,  a supply disruption would require tapping SPR help for a much shorter period than was envisioned when the SPR’s capacity was designed.

The above is part of the setup to the discussion, below are my comments: 

Can the US use oil release from the SPR as a weapon of political will? 

Not particularly. The SPR is at best a temporary measure – it’s not going to impact Russia in a long term, geostrategic sense. You can dress it up more so, read into it, or analyze it – but this is on the same level as suggesting that we should use the SPR when gas prices get to high. At best they are “things to do that people can talk about”, sort of feeble attempts to control a news cycle or shift attention – but without any significant consequence.

Russia won’t be moved by periodic threats of releasing a petroleum reserve – every few quarters the US decides to release a strategic build up of oil? It all washes out to nothing eventually. I’m afraid this is a bit of energy’s self-importance being stretched.

Should it? 

If the United States wants to appear like it’s doing something without actually doing anything. It might be a way for the United States to garner a relatively insignificant news soundbite “Today the United States taps its strategic petroleum reserve in an effort to influence Russia’s aggressive foreign policy”. Ok – then what? It will never be “US unleashes SPR, totally disrupting Russia’s foreign activity – Putin really has to figure out how to get out of this mess”.
Should the SPR be retained only for supply disruptions? 

The SPR is a very small, finite amount of oil. It has no long run influence. It is like a few thousand dollars in a savings account – it’ll get you through some months of your life, but it isn’t going to provide you a future.

Has shale oil truly changed this landscape?

If it changed the landscape, we wouldn’t be talking about the SPR, don’t you think?

“In our new world driven by shale oil,  a supply disruption would require tapping SPR help for a much shorter period than was envisioned when the SPR’s capacity was designed.”

If shale oil or gas truly changed the landscape, Russia wouldn’t be the supplier it is these days, to Europe and Asia. I’m not really sure why shale oil was brought into this discussion – it wasn’t mentioned in the Soros article.

Bottom line:

“The strongest deterrent is in the hands of the United States because it can release oil from the strategic oil reserve, which would then reduce the price of oil, and that would ruin the Russian economy, which lives on oil”.

Soros appears relatively naive about what the SPR can and can’t do, or the impact that a finite supply of oil could have on long term global or regional oil prices. The strongest deterrent in the hands of the United States is definitely not the SPR.

Wish Granted: Ed Sheeran Sings Ailing Fan To Sleep Moments Before Her Death

This is such a nice story, on so many levels - a tragic loss, a last wish, Sheeran's music, people coming together to help someone, and the power of the internet & modern communication technology,  all rolled into a tale worth sharing. Let's take a moment to remember Triona Priestley.

(See what we can do if we come together?) We can make an individual's wish come true, and I bet we can make our everyday lives better, too, if we try. Here is some inspiration on that front.

Triona Priestly and her mother in December 2012

Ed Sheeran became a hero on Tuesday, April 1, by fulfilling the dying wish of a dedicated fan.  Fifteen–year–old Triona Priestley suffered from cystic fibrosis for much of her life, but things took a turn for the worse earlier in preceding week.

Friends, family, strangers, and the internet itself came together together to get the word out about Triona's last wish - which was to hear her favorite song, "Litte Bird", by Ed Sheeran.

Triona's brother Colm, along with his sister's friends, started a #SongForTri Twitter campaign last week after she revealed her dying wish, Ireland's Independent reported Wednesday. The Independent got involved in the campaign to facilitate getting in touch with Sheeran through his manager.

"What they gave us and her was a beautiful last moment together. Triona slipped into a sleep as Ed was singing to her and passed away shortly afterwards," Colm Priestley told The Independent. "So Ed Sheeran sang her to sleep."

The hashtag #SongForTri helped garner attention across Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.

Faith in Humanity: Boosted


Well played, friends and family. Well played, internet. Well played, Mr Sheeran. Well played, Triona, for persevering and providing an opportunity to show what we can do if we humans come together.



Did you know about CF? 

Triona was taken to soon. But there are some ways you may be able to help - her family mentions the following: "Donations, if desired, to Cystic Fibrosis Ireland and Temple Street Hospital."

Cystic Fibrosis is Ireland's most common genetically inherited disease. With 1100+ CF Patients, Ireland has the highest proportion of CF people in the world.

I never knew CF was so prevalent in Ireland. Check out Cystic Fibrosis Ireland's home page to learn more about the disease.

Empathy As A Psychedelic Experience

Just a small note, to be sung in the same general tune as the recent post on how reading literature helps create empathy. Empathy, as least as per my experience, is definitely something that can be grown, and developed, almost as if it were a skill, or skillset, or operational framework.

But the thing about empathy is that it is inherently an involved activity. If you haven't already, I invite you to watch this brief, wonderfully illustrated RSA piece about the power of empathy - and how it differs from sympathy.

"But what they don't tell you in school", so to say, is that when you grow in empathy, it very much affects your everyday life and choices. In one sense, I will say that empathy is true learning and true comprehension, because to me, learning anything is only significant if it actually affects your decision making, or how you interpret things; it only matters if it affects your context.

But a psychedelic experience?

Yeah. I'd say so. At least, coming from a guy who has more or less been conditioned to repress emotional connection his whole life.

What actually triggered this little note was me watching the pilot to Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman - that Jane Seymour old-time show. It was the scene where the Doctor treats a prostitute, and in gratitude Dr. Quinn is given jewelry. "It ain't real, but it's pretty", the prostitute said.

A very small, easily overlooked moment - there was no dramatic music or in-depth spotlight on despair or struggle - don't forget, this is a feel-good '90s prime time TV series. But for whatever reason it struck me powerfully, unexpectedly. Maybe it's because I relate to desolation better, now - the feeling of having to make a living in a strange land, in strange ways. Maybe it's because I understand more the awkward tension between trying to find a way to survive despite repressive, generally disrespectful social norms. Maybe it's because I understand better wanting to repay someone, and having no adequate means to do so - but so much appreciating the grace and benevolence by someone who still accepts the gesture of compensation. Maybe it's because it's easy to translate this one illustration across many different situations, cultures, and experiences, and see the truth that is in the tension of the moment.

My friend send me this, unknowingly, as I wrote this note
These are powerful things. Yet so often they are sidelined, as things only for theater or drama, or for women to cry about at the movies, or for men to scoff at.

But I only become more convinced that these things need to be embraced.  There's a time to turn off feelings and sensitivity because things need to be done, no doubt. But there's also a time to accept them and realize their importance.

What's more, and this is why I say "psychedelic", the amount of information you comprehend, the amount you feel, when you really practice empathy, is amazing. "Consciousness Expanding". It can be scary and unsettling, but it's also a much more full experience. It's being able to know, and feel, the whole, or at least more, the full spectrum. Imagine if you were color blind, but then you could see all of the colors? What if you realized that visible light is only a small fraction of the whole electromagnetic spectrum?

Developing empathy in this world can be borderline detrimental to you well being, in many cases, because by feeling so much more you feel the ills of the world more vibrantly. But only by feeling them and realizing things can be different will things actually become different - even if only in your small sphere of influence, your lifetime, your life.

"Even if", I chuckle to write that; that "even if" is everything, and shapes the future as well.

The flipside, of course, is that growing accustomed to those ills, you can experience more fully the joys, the positives - and thereby share and cultivate them. Spread them. Make your friend's day, be good to your family. Move in solidarity with someone as they go through an experience - or really let someone know how much the matter to you.

It can be quite the trip. 

Tesla: One Step Closer To Aerodynamic, Electric Tank

 Ok, so that's fairly clear hyperbole.

But I want to hand it to Elon Musk for taking the time to write a PR piece about his latest developments - that is, a software update, protective titanium underbody shield and aluminum deflector plates. Almost sounds like we're talking about Star Trek - I mean SpaceX - right?

The Tesla Model S has already been given the highest safety rating on the road by the National Highway Traffic Administration, but Musk wants to make a point:

It is important to note that there have been no fire injuries (or serious, permanent injuries of any kind) in a Tesla at all. The odds of fire in a Model S, at roughly 1 in 8,000 vehicles, are five times lower than those of an average gasoline car and, when a fire does occur, the actual combustion potential is comparatively small. However, to improve things further, we provided an over-the-air software update a few months ago to increase the default ground clearance of the Model S at highway speeds, substantially reducing the odds of a severe underbody impact.

It is his point to make; Tesla vehicles have received more than their fair share of "controversy" and "criticism" in the mainstream media. Although I'm sure it could be read as a diplomatic phrasing neutralize any histrionic nay-sayers, it is nice to see a CEO go out of his way to ensure his product gives its customers "complete peace of mind". 
Nonetheless, we felt it was important to bring this risk down to virtually zero to give Model S owners complete peace of mind. Starting with vehicle bodies manufactured as of March 6, all cars have been outfitted with a triple underbody shield. Tesla service will also retrofit the shields, free of charge, to existing cars upon request or as part of a normally scheduled service.

(Underbody Shields vs Concrete Block)
Perhaps not just peace of mind, but to continue to be the coolest, most technologically advanced car on the planet. It's a bit like running up the score on an obviously weaker team, and then spiking the football in the endzone - but the other team, or at least the very vocal doubters of Tesla, seem to keep asking for it. 

As the empirical evidence suggests, the underbody shields are not needed for a high level of safety. However, there is significant value to minimizing owner inconvenience in the event of an impact and addressing any lingering public misperception about electric vehicle safety. With a track record of zero deaths or serious, permanent injuries since our vehicles went into production six years ago, there is no safer car on the road than a Tesla. The addition of the underbody shields simply takes it a step further.

Indeed it does.

I can't help but feel a sense of personal pride at stake when Musk writes this piece. That said, this kind of caring about a product is rather rare these days. What's more, Musk is going out of his way to try to make a broader statement - not just about his Tesla line, but about what current technology can do. It's about the room for growth we have, even in the present.

It's quite a lot of work to combat norms, whether they are about how we view each other, or how we view technology. So when Musk is going to great lengths in "addressing any lingering public misperception about electric vehicle safety", it's an act of being The Greater Fool, by which we can benefit from his efforts. We need people who push boundaries, even those that fail - but that's how new things happen and experience is gained. Musk thankfully is in the right position to do all of those things - so it's entertaining, in the best and most respectful usage of the term, to see the trials and tribulations play out.

EVs, solar, space travel - it's quite a bit of trailblazing. But at least we're moving forward.

Comment: I don't care if "not all men are like that", or, Why I assume the worst

I opened up Facebook this morning and saw the below article linked, with a friend of mine sharing a story about it happening to her. There is a strange mixture of feelings I have when commenting on these subjects - part that I'm a member of a group that is perpetrating these things, but also a man who wants to advocate against such. There's a looming question of "who is this guy to talk about this sort of thing"? I think the easiest way for me to say it is that I'm a person - I'm a person who is aware of problematic ways we humans relate to each other. I understand Privilege and such things - and not because I was enlightened from birth. I've made mistakes, listened and grown, somewhat. But I think these conversations are important to have; it's how we create a space for understanding, and potential for improvement.

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