Road & Reading Update

1. At 6:00 A.M. in February, Houston is merely warm and insanely humid.

2. Houston is home to the beautiful Annunciation Parish, a mere 10 minute muggy walk from the hotel:

Three interesting things:

  • Most of the people there were a) men and b) younger than me. Some were obviously people with jobs downtown catching Mass before work – something a lot of people used to do, but now few parishes in my experience offer Mass early enough for that to work.
  • They used the altar rail – kneeling for communion under both species.
  • Second sighting of the Ignatius Pew Missal in the wild (after Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara)

My Southern California heart was deeply offended:

img_3711

ūüėČ

3. Travel means:

  • Sitting on a plane
  • Time stuck in hotel room.

Which means: Reading! A few pages from the end of Captive Dreams by Mike Flynn, which deserves praise and a thoughtful review, which, given there’s nothing on the schedule for this afternoon (but you know how that goes) I might get to sooner rather than later. And a read! Get your copy now, and wallow in philosophy, math, and genetics while you enjoy excellent ScFi.

4. Now, two slots east of my native time zone – I need coffee!!

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Little Planets Found Around Little Star

Man, I am just a killjoy. So, let’s get the positive out of the way: it is way cool that 7 little – as in, not gas giant – planets were found around a ‘nearby’ in the sense of unimaginably and unreachably distant, star.

Almost got through a paragraph without getting snarky. Oh, well. Seriously, exoplanets are fun. If they ever actually find any sign of extraterrestrial life, that will be fun, too! But finding cool little planets isn’t the same as finding signs of extraterrestrial life. Oops, there I go again.

Let’s go with the NASA press release, to see Our Tax Dollars at Work:¬†NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star.¬†Wow, the artist’s rendition, which seems to be required by law to accompany any NASA press release no matter how scanty the information, makes it look like what we have here are 7 very attractive and detailed – friendly, even – ¬†little earth-sized planets!

An Artist’s representation. Of something or other.

That looks like fun. Here, let me play:

artists-rendention-1
Some other artist’s rendition. Every bit as accurate! Except maybe for the fish.

But enough with the attempts at humor, at least until some other funny thought strikes me. The opening paragraphs state:

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.

The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water ‚Äď key to life as we know it ‚Äď under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.

What NASA thinks the tax-paying public is most likely to be wowed by is: Alien Life! Therefore, it deploys the terms “habitable zone” (three time), “liquid water” (twice) and¬†¬†“life as we know it” in the first two paragraphs. The opening ends with a suggestion that there’s a chance – a pretty good chance, right? – that such conditions as would make a planet ‘habitable’ are right here on all 7 planets, but: “…the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.” So, one might suppose there’s a better than decent chance of life on those 3 planets in the habitable zone. Pretty exciting, eh?

One has to read all the way to paragraph 11 to discover that the star is an “ultra-cool dwarf”, which, while it sounds kind of cool, ultra cool, even, has some drawbacks: such stars are so cool for stars that their habitable zone is very, very close to them as opposed to stars like the sun. Planets must be very close, in other words, to potentially have the right temperature range for liquid water to exist on them.

Such close orbits present a problem: “The planets may also be tidally locked to their star.” At the very least (and some celestial mechanic out there please straighten me out on this if I’ve misunderstood) this means these planets orbiting close to such a star would be subject to tidal forces that strongly tend to slow down their rotation, sometimes, as is the case with our own moon, ‘tidally locking’ the smaller body so that it rotates exactly once per orbit. Sometimes, as with the roughly similar-sized Charon and Pluto, *both* bodies get tidally locked. Sometimes – and I don’t think this is very well understood (1) – the smaller body will fall into some sort of resonance period – 3 revolutions for every 2 orbits, as is the case with Mercury.

Full tidal locking would result in a planet with one relatively scorching side and one freezing side. If there were an atmosphere, it would tend to heat up and expand on the sunward side, and flow to the night side, where it would cool and maybe even freeze. If liquid water evaporated, it would suffer the same fate. I would imagine that, over time, like a few million years, the atmosphere would get thinner and thinner on the sunlit side until the ice on the dark side could evaporate into space – atmosphere and ice would be lost.

Be that as it may, a tidally locked planet¬†seems very unlikely to be ‘habitable’ if we mean ‘life as we know it could live and develop there.’ (2) ¬†Like the economist with one foot on fire and one foot in a block of ice, on average things might be OK, but in practice they are not. The situation would be more complicated but not much better on any planets with resonance periods like Mercury – really slow rotational periods allow the sunward side to get hotter and the night side to get colder than a quicker rotation, which could result in the same situation as fully locker planets – it might just take longer. (3)

Enough of my pessimism. I can only think of one tidally locked planet in SciFi, a throw-away world in the third (I think) Foundation book, with stations on the thin twilight zone. I’m sure other have done it, too. It would much fun to make up a way, somehow, that an advanced civilization could develop on such a world….

But don’t hold your breath over TRAPPIST-1, even if that’s a pretty cool name.

  1. Meaning: I’ve given it a shot, but don’t understand it as well as I’d like. In a bit of astronomy/egomaniacal irony, the entire Universe revolves around ME! The Omphalos Wikipedia: “Mercury is tidally or gravitationally locked with the Sun in a 3:2 resonance,[15] and rotates in a way that is unique in the Solar System. As seen relative to the fixed stars, it rotates on its axis exactly three times for every two revolutions it makes around the Sun.[a][16] As seen from the Sun, in a frame of reference that rotates with the orbital motion, it appears to rotate only once every two Mercurian years. An observer on Mercury would therefore see only one day every two years.”
  2. This is granting the as yet unevidenced principle that life will just ‘arise’ whenever conditions are ‘right’, given enough time. Let’s see example #2 of life – you know, extraterrestrial life – before we start generalizing principles, shall we?
  3. Some of the other articles I perused called ultra cool dwarf stars ‘overlooked’. I kind of doubt that – you’d focus on stars around the size of the sun, because that’s where planets can end up in the Goldilocks Zone without getting tidally locked – as we know from our own planet. ¬†Planets around much smaller stars will have that problem; much bigger stars tend to blow up well within the several billion years it is assumed to take for life to develop. So, if you’re looking for another earth, you’d look around stars that look like another sun.

 

How to Fix Education: Step One

There are 3 basic things wrong with modern k-12 education:

  1. Age-graded classrooms
  2. Age-graded classrooms
  3. Age-graded classrooms

Taking 5 and 6 year-old children, each of whom is a distinct individual, member of a particular family and community, and a child of God, and grouping them by age with no regard for those differences, tells that child in a way more direct and powerful than any mere words, exactly how important his own life, family and community is, and how he is to view his God.

In all approaches to education(1) up until the invention of the graded classroom model, who the child was and what he already knew and what he needed and wanted to learn were the basis of all teaching – and schools were structured accordingly. The model least unfamiliar to Americans is probably the one-room school. In its heyday, the typical one room school, built and run by the local families, employed a young unmarried woman to teach all the children up until the age of about 14. She would assess what each child knew and didn’t know, and pair up the kids so that a particular child might be learning to read from a child younger than himself while teaching math to a kid older than himself. ¬†Each day, each child would be called up to ‘recite’ to the teacher, so that she knew how it was going. Such education, which by all objective measures produced better educated students than the current model in a fraction of the time (2), was held around the work the kids needed to do on the farm.

One room schools reinforced the relationships that brought those kids together in the first place: family, work, neighbor, community. The teacher managed a process by which all students learned how to learn and how to teach – by doing it.

The graded classroom model was designed specifically to destroy those relationships, and replace them with obedience, conformity, and ignorance. The graded classroom places children into arbitrary groups run by someone hired by bureaucrats and protected by a union, who follows lesson plans concocted by utterly inaccessible ‘educators’ and whose major task each day is to put a stop to natural social interactions (“Stop talking! Pay attention!”). Instead of building upon the natural relationships of siblings, families, neighbors and coreligionists, ¬†modern school seeks to destroy those relationships and replace them with loyalty to the state (3).

As John Taylor Gatto points out, the greatest triumph of modern schooling is that few people can even imagine doing it any other way. Thus, even most home schoolers, who have taken heroic steps to separate themselves and their kids from public model schools, are just looking for a better graded classroom – we know this, because they still (mostly) concern themselves with year-by-year curricula and worry if their kid is ‘performing to grade level’. It doesn’t occur to them, at least not to the depth required to do something about it, that ‘grade-level’ is no more real than the tooth fairy, no more based on science than phrenology, and is in fact nothing more than the instrument by which they are controlled. It is how teacher in the schools are controlled as well – no matter how well-meaning, teachers keep their jobs by focusing on getting their kids to test at or above grade-level. There is no more perfect control than that which issues arbitrary and objectively meaningless orders – and gets them obeyed anyway.

All arguments for graded classrooms are lies. They are not more efficient for any value of ‘education’ that is not an Orwellian euphemism. We do not need them. We do not need to put our children under the care of professional educators. We are not incompetent. There is no evidence the graded classroom model ‘works’ better than anything else, and lots that it is an abject, appalling failure (4). Lies, lies and more lies.

Once we get rid of the graded classroom, we can begin to have a rational discussion about how we should educate our children.

  1. Education differs from training in this respect: education is for the sake of the person being educated, and only indirectly for the benefit of society; training is what you do to soldiers and horses, to serve their master’s goals. Someone may want to be a soldier or a tailor or a bricklayer and seek the training of his own free will – but the purpose of such training is primarily to enable him to do what others want him to do. All education is in this sense ‘liberal education’ – anything less is mere training, which tends toward the enslavement of those not otherwise liberally educated.
  2. Not surprising, since ‘education’ is not the goal of modern schools, and never was.
  3. As discussed at great length on this blog under Schooling 
  4. e.g., “If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war.”

    Glenn T. Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983, via Chaos Manor

Well, Well, Well – Record Perciptation

Outside, up here in beautiful South Lake Tahoe, a glance out the window shows snow, coming down with a firm level of commitment. Visibility is at least a couple hundred yards, so not white out or anything. Yet.

But the ALL IN CAPS weather advisory is saying things like:

HEAVY SNOW WILL CREATE DANGEROUS CONDITIONS, WITH TRAVEL BEING SEVERELY IMPACTED OVER THE SIERRA PASSES. SNOWFALL RATES WILL EXCEED 2 INCHES PER HOUR AT TIMES, PRODUCING WHITEOUT CONDITIONS OVER THE PASSES AND IN THE BACKCOUNTRY. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… AVOID TRAVEL TODAY THROUGH TUESDAY, YOU COULD BE STUCK IN YOUR VEHICLE FOR MANY HOURS. IF YOU MUST TRAVEL, PREPARE FOR LONG DELAYS AND CARRY AN EMERGENCY KIT WITH EXTRA FOOD, WATER AND CLOTHING. IF YOU STAY HOME, HAVE A BACKUP PLAN IN CASE OF POWER OUTAGES. &&

We were planning on going home tomorrow, but the only way to get there from here is over one of those Sierra passes they mention above. If we were in some sort of Polanski movie, deep, horrible psychological problems would force us to go north to the Donner pass on I-80, get stuck – and eat each other in a grim recapitulation of the inescapable past.

But let’s not go there. The pass on US 50, Echo Summit, is expecting up to 5′ of snow – right now, with chains, you can get the 20 miles or so from here to past there in a mere hour and a half.

**Mid-update Update**: Nope, they’ve stopped traffic while they take avalanche mitigation steps – doesn’t that sound charming? – up that stretch I mentioned yesterday that hugs the terrifying cliff. Good idea! The notion one could be swept over that cliff by tons of snow does not pleasant napping make.

I forgot I was with a bunch of people who are, at best, no more inured to these conditions than I am. Thus, the overall low level of concern lulled me – left to my own instincts, I’d have left yesterday given the information at hand. Now, the adults here are making contingency plans, as the landlady does expect us to leave tomorrow a.m. – which will be still in the major part of the storm, which means CalTrans may not be letting people through. The storm is scheduled to end – and we know how reliable these natural disasters tend to be – around 4 p.m. Tuesday, not at 4 a.m. as it was when we left to come up here. How was one to know forecasts could be so temperamental?

Anyway: Weather.com and other news sources have finally begun to use terms like ‘record setting’ and ‘all-time’ in regards to this winter’s precipitation. Certainly, the rain and snow in the Feather River drainage, which includes a huge chunk of the northern Sierra, is way ahead of the highest level for this point in the season, and pushing the all-time high for the season – which ends in September! Saw an ad today where one of the ski areas here was touting how they had ‘officially’ 500 inches – 41+ feet! -of snow, ¬†and it’s snowing there now.

If things were to continue according to an ‘average’ year from here on out, the Sierra would have 200%+ of its average season snowpack, Contra Costa County would (according to the Flood Control District’s gauges as discussed here) nearly 200% of its average rainfall. Southern California got epic rainfall in the last set of storms, and is getting more from this, and is way wetter than average. Even Death Valley got .65 inches this last round. Lake Manly, here we come!

Some shots from yesterday:

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Weekend Update: Milestones, Tahoe, Woodworking Abomination, etc.

1. So: sometime today, given normal traffic, this blog will get its 100,000th view. About 35,000 visitors. Don’t know what makes up views and visitors, except there are enough caveats, provisos, quid pro quos to make the common sense understanding (whatever that might be) unlikely to align with these numbers. Whatever. W00, and, I might add, Hoo.

“There are a few provisos, a couple of quid-pro-quos. Rule number one: I can’t kill anybody. Bleurk! So don’t ask. Rule number two: I can’t make anybody fall in love with anybody else. You little punim there! Rule number three: I can’t bring people back from the dead. It’s not a pretty picture, I DON’T LIKE DOING IT! Other than that, you got it.”

2. Up in Tahoe for the long weekend, with a couple of families from school – one mom very graciously gets her sister to rent us a cabin (in the Tahoe sense of a two-story building on snow-plowed roads that sleeps 16 or so in suburban comfort) so that the cost is very low per person. Unlike previous years, we gocher snow Right Here:

img_3655
View from the kitchen table. More snow on the way through Tuesday. Lots more snow as you head further up the mountains. 

Over the Echo Summit (7,382′), snow was piled a dozen or more feet high on either side of the road. Right after the summit, the road bears left and descend along a cliff over the course of a couple miles to about lake level (6,225′). Usually, this section is a bit bracing, what with very scenic and life-threatening drops a suddenly flimsy-looking guardrail away. This time, there was a view-obstructing yet somehow comforting pile of cleared snow along most of the route. Good thing, too, since there was a light snow that was *just* starting to stick.

I lived in New Mexico (Santa Fe, Albuquerque) long enough to learn that snow sucks. Those people with their ice fishing and tobogganing and what not are in denial. Go ahead and kid yourselves however you need to to survive until spring, where you’ll have a couple weeks of nice weather before it turns hot, nasty and mosquito-infested. No, snow is not fun, at least, past the age of 12 and after about 5 minutes. It’s just cold, wet and occasionally dangerous.

3. The truly dedicated and obsessive reader might recall that, last year, when we also went to Tahoe, we attended Mass with very nice people in a lovely (after the manner of its kind) church that had certain carpentry features that triggered my OCD I found really distracting.

We attended yet another lovely Mass with the kind people of South Lake Tahoe today. We sat in another section, so I got a different view of what Frankenstein’s Monster would have looked like if Dr. Frankenstein had been a church carpenter:

Ah! My Eyes!

4. Lots of drafts.  A couple of which might even be interesting, that I hope to get out while I should be out playing in the snow. Right.

Friday Sci Fi Questions:

Asking for a friend. Not at all tipping my hand about things that may or may not be in The Novel That Shall Not Be Named, for which I’m doing detailing/clean up on the science aspects of the major plot points. (I suppose if I were better read in Sci Fi, I’d know the answer to these. ¬†But I’m not.)

Image result for ion cannon
Yes, deploying a Star Wars ion cannon picture in a blog post asking science questions. It’s like, ironic or something. But – well? Does that blast keep going forever if it misses the Star Destroyer? Until it hits something else?¬†
  1. Ion trails: (this one really is just idle curiosity) Would not using an ion drive of any sort leave a trail through space that is sorta like long-lived invisible razor wire? A strong ion beam could saw somebody in half – could it saw somebody in half a light year away? So: is there some natural process – other than running into something – that mitigates this? I start to wonder if multiple ships headed for the same destination using some sort of ion drive would not eventually create a hazard. Sure, space is, as the Hitchhiker’s Guide tells us, very, very big – but if ships are leaving from the same place and going to the same destination, would not this be an issue, eventually, even allowing for proper motion?
  2. One thing that’s always bothered me about nanobots and even larger self-directed, self-replicating bots: how are they not susceptible or less susceptible to exactly the sort of damage/decay as living cells? Why would they not be subject to ‘nanocancers’ just as much as living cells are subject to regular cancers? I’d expect the problem to be even worse: the mechanisms that govern living things have gone through trillions of trials over billions of year, which has strongly tended to weed out stuff that doesn’t work, for most values of work. Yet cancers and other malfunctions seem to be ubiquitous among living things. This seems to be a classic unkowns we don’t know situation: if we knew how it worked, we’d have cured cancer by now. So, we think our bots will be any better? That data won’t get miscopied or damaged by radiation? Sure, there are a few animals with very low cancer rates – but we as of yet don’t really understand how that works.
  3. I often wondered about the whole ‘spinning hollow asteroid’ trick – wouldn’t that sucker have to be very carefully balanced? Get a little mass off-center, create a wobble – and? Does it correct itself once the mass imbalance is removed? Doesn’t this preclude moving around inside it much? Maybe a single person isn’t much, but how about a crowd? A piece of machinery? ¬†I’m imagining a computer-controlled system of counterbalances might be required, which detects and corrects any wobbles before they get bad.

Like I said, asking for a friend.

Can’t Get Enough Weather-talk!

Update: Here is the map of the current drought situation in California:

drought-map
from the United States Drought Monitor web page.

Here is the rain situation in California forecast for 5:00 p.m. today:

rian-map-2107-02-17

I believe this is a problem meeting its solution (1). That band of heavy rain is dumping a forecasted 3″-6″ in the flats, a foot or more in the hills, all the way from Santa Barbara to San Diego and Baja California (2). ¬†More rain over this weekend. The press is calling it ‘epic’ ¬†and ‘torrential’ and probably dragging out their thesauruses for even better words. I’d suggest ‘apocalyptic’ or even ‘the Ragnar√∂k of rains’. I suspect there are legitimate reasons they don’t let me write for the papers.

Texted my kids who live down there, and, yes, they are wet.

I recall as a child reading Raymond Chandler stories, which seemed to involve rain in LA when not talking about Santa Ana winds, and wondering: huh? In my first 18 years, there was *1* year of memorable rain. Setting a story in rainy LA as if it were completely normal struck me as odd.

Also as a child – probably a teenager – found a large book in the Whittier Public Library that was a hydrology study from, I think, the 1920s, making the argument (with lots of cool maps and charts (3)) that Something Must Be Done about all these floods. So, on an intellectual level, I understood that it sometimes rains A Lot in LA, but lacked the personal experience to confirm it.

My sample, it seems, may have been skewed.

Updating the Update: Here’s what’s going on at the moment, per Weather.com:¬†

rain-map2-2107-02-17
Actual rain at 3:50 p.m. LA is getting hammered. 
  1. even if the problem is calling “we planned our water system based on an insufficiently large sample size of ‘normal’ weather” ¬†a “drought” – because Nature was done with the drought last year, when we got an average amount of rainfall – but all the (unnatural by definition) reservoirs and pumped out groundwater reserves had not yet been refilled.
  2. It’s a little too bad about Baja – it’s mostly a dusty desert and the infrastructure isn’t very good, and lots of people live in less than tight housing (and, sadly, a lot live under tarps and pallets and cardboard). It will turn a dusty mess into a muddy mess, at best, for a whole lot of people. They need the water, but it’s better if they don’t get it all at once.
  3. My hopeless geekiness is showing. Yes, I spent enough time looking at an hydrology study in the public library 45 years ago that I remember it to this day.