Showing posts with label Light Research. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Light Research. Show all posts

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Ironical is a real word! Didn't know that? Yeah, you aren't alone.



[ ahy-ron-ik ]

adjective; from 1620's

  1. using words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning; containing or exemplifying irony
  2. of, relating to, or tending to use irony or mockery; ironical
  3. coincidental; unexpected


[ ahy-ron-i-kuhl ]

adjective; first recorded in 1570's

  1. pertaining to, of the nature of, exhibiting, or characterized by irony or mockery
  2. using or prone to irony

Monday, January 28, 2019

Be like Jay?

Be like Jay!  Be gay and scolding, I guess. Looks like poetry of questionable quality isn't only the domain of grade school English class.


Something glorious, something gay,
Flits and flashes this-a-way!
’Thwart the hemlock’s dusky shade,
Rich in color full displayed,
Swiftly vivid as a flame—
Blue as heaven and white as snow—
Doth this lovely creature go.
What may be his dainty name?
“Only this”—the people say—
“Saucy, chattering, scolding Jay!”

-uncredited c.1897

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Words to annoy pedants with inconcise English

Ironic conflicting road signs
There are many ways English doesn't follow precise scientific style definitions.  Some English-speakers are annoyed by some of the inconsistencies and disorder of English words.  There are even some who take their annoyance out on others, just because others don't see a problem.  In this, there is movement that tries to bring hierarchical order to English.  When people defy this attempt for order, they can find themselves being attacked for their word choices.

I've talked about the phrase begs the question in a previous article.  Use of this phrase will trigger attacks by pedants.  There are specific words that elicit similar literary venom.  At the top of the list is ironical.

Ironical irony

There are many people that sincerely believe ironical is not a word, and that only ironic should be used in cases where irony is an adjective.  They will actually make fun of people that use the word ironical correctly.  I've used the term myself in an ironic sense, only to trigger people who don't understand the irony of being opposed to the use of the word ironical, and the double-irony that ironical is actually a real word, and the triple-irony that I used the word to make fun of something else (namely, being pedantic).

There was an episode on Seinfeld, where the character Seinfeld confidently declares there is no such word ironical.  I don't know if this started the hatred of the word, but it certainly popularized that hatred.

Another ironic fact about ironical is that it actually has a more concise definition than ironic.  Ironic has three distinct definitions, where ironical has two related definitions.

The word irony itself is also the subject to derision.  The definition of irony includes something being incongruous.  Yet, using irony in this manner can trigger pendants into criticising you.

Number game

Another example of people trying to bring order to disorder of the English language lies in the alternative terms for numbers.  Namely, couple, few, dozen, etc.  But, that's not good enough for some.  In some schools, kids are taught that there is a concise progression to these terms, where couple = 2, several = 3 and few = 4.

If you look up several in the dictionary, you'll find a variety of definitions that can vary between dictionaries.  Some dictionaries say that several means "more than 2 or 3", while others say it means "more than a few".  However, in all cases, several represents an "indefinitely small number".

If you look up few in the dictionary, you'll find that few doesn't actually represent any particular number at all in most definitions.  It doesn't mean "3 or 4" or just "4".  It simply means an "indefinitely small number", similar to several.

I've even heard some claim that the word some has a defined number of 2 or more, when in fact, some can refer to any number, large or small, including 1 or 1,000,000.


Another word I've seen trigger people is orientate.  Orientate and orient both mean the same thing as verbs in most cases.  But, orient is also a noun.  Some people prefer to say orientate to identify the word as a verb since orientate has no noun meaning.  In other words, it's actually more concise to use the word orientate when talking about taking an action that will change the orientation of a thing.

Inflamed much?

Is it wrong to use the word inflammable when flammable means exactly the same thing?  Well, they both have the same definition, but for different reasons.  Root word for flammable is flame.  Flame is a noun.  However, inflame is the root word of inflammable.  Inflame is a verb.  And, inflammation is a noun with a completely different meaning than flame.  The word flammation is obsolete.  It meant to cause something to be set on fire.  What's the other word for that?  Oh, that's right, inflame.  So, technically, flammable should be the word we stop using if we were to choose between it and inflammable.  I wonder who would be inflamed by that?

What are some other words that bug someone you know?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Yes, you do weigh less at the Equator, and here's roughly how much

Earths Gravity
You can change your weight in many ways.  But, there is one way that doesn't require doing anything more than just travelling North or South.  Most dramatically, your weight is different at the Equator than it is at the North Pole.  This is due to the centrifugal force of the Earth's daily rotation.

The Earth spins one full rotation in a period just under 24 hours (kinda).  At a spot that is one inch from the North (or South) Pole, the speed of the ground as it rotates around the axis is literally just over 1/4in per hour.   By comparison, a common snail can slither 1837in per hour.  However, at the Equator, the speed of the ground as it rotates around the axis is a whopping 1,036 MPH!  This is faster than the Speed of Sound (761.2 MPH).  Thankfully, the laws of nature do a great job of making sure we do not notice such things as we walk about in your daily lives.

Even still, that is fast enough to notice the effect of the centrifugal force of Earth's spin on your weight.  Basically, you weigh less at the Equator than you do at the North Pole.  Your mass doesn't change, of course.  It's just that the pull of Earth's gravity is slightly mitigated by it's rotation about its axis.

That said, there are many factors that affect the local gravity.  The problem is that gravity itself is generally measured in terms that are meaningless to everyday life.  So, when an online local gravity calculator tells you that your local gravity in meters per seconds squared, that isn't all that helpful in finding out how much more or less you'll weight somewhere else.

I've created a simplified calculator as a spreadsheet .  It will tell you how much you'll weigh at any latitude based on your current weight at your current latitude.  The calculations on the spreadsheet are rough.  They do not take into account many factors that might affect your weight, nor are they precise enough for serious scientific studies.  However, they are close enough to satisfy whatever curiosity you might have.  As such, use the spreadsheet for entertainment purposes only, and have fun seeing how much less you'll weight at particular latitudes!

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Is it really Frankenstein's Monster?

Frankenstein comicIs the term really "Frankenstein's Monster" rather than just "Frankenstein" when talking about the monster?  How often has the term "Frankenstein's Monster" really appeared anywhere?   Why is there confusion about the monster's name?  Well, that's because he isn't actually given a proper name in the original story by Mary Shelley.

Without much context, a quick search on Google ngram reveals that the term "Frankenstein's Monster" does indeed show up in literature.  However, going back to 1800 finds that the term really didn't get started until well after 1870. Beyond that, the term wasn't really in use until the 1960's. Just for reference, the Frankenstein book was originally published in 1818.

So, what do we get when we compare the usage of the term "Frankenstein's Monster" with usage of just the name "Frankenstein"?

Well, usage of "Frankenstein" does occur well before 1818.  That makes sense since it is a real surname.  However, taking pre-1818 use of the name as noise, there is still substantial use of the term "Frankenstein" from 1818 and on.  "Frankenstein" appears so often that it literally relegates the use of "Frankenstein's Monster" to well below that of background noise.  Usage of "Frankenstein's Monster" is less than a blip, even nowadays.

Beyond that, is the distinction between the mad scientist and his monster really all that important, namewise?  If we count the monster as the scientist's child in a manner of speaking, the monster would carry the scientist's surname anyway.  Both the monster and the scientist carry the name "Frankenstein".  Maybe instead of trying to impose a ill-accepted term like "Frankenstein's Monster", we simply use the term "Dr. Frankenstein" for the mad scientist and "Frankenstein" for the monster.

"Dr. Frankenstein" appears orders-of-magnitude more often than "Frankenstein's Monster".  And, it's a bit more of a blip when compared to just "Frankenstein".

Monday, January 30, 2017

Maybe we are the first

I've said several times that it is possible that the human species is the first species in the Milky Way galaxy to evolve to our level of intelligent and technology.  This opinion is based on information about just how much needs to happen to allow for the spark of life in conjunction with the apparent rarity of our own solar system.  The recent study Relative likelihood for life as a function of cosmic time seems to confirm this idea.

A basic premise is that life requires stars for two different purposes.  The study states,
Life requires stars for two reasons. Stars are needed to produce the heavy elements (carbon, oxygen and so on, up to iron) out of which rocky planets and the molecules of life are made. Stars also provide a heat source for powering the chemistry of life on the surface of their planets.[001]
This means that rogue planets aren't likely to spark or support life.  This also means that Population III and most Population II stars systems will not have life either, because they are unlikely to have the elements necessary to form terrestrial planets.  That pretty much leaves us with Population I stars.

Rogue Planet - artist concept
Rogue planet, artist concept
Population III or II stars, article concept
Population III or II stars, artist concept
What's all this about "Population"? It's a name for stars at various stages of galaxy development.  
  • Population III stars are the stars that likely formed right after the Big Bang.  They have not been directly observed, so their existed is estimated.  They were made up of mostly Hydrogen and Helium.  As such, they are unlikely to have any planets.
  • Population II stars are stars that are still made up of mostly Hydrogen and Helium, but have higher concentrations of elements such as Oxygen, Silicon, Neon, etc.  Typically, such star systems are still unlikely to contain terrestrial planets.  Many Population II stars still exist in our galaxy, though in regions without access to many heavier elements.
  • Population I stars are stars that are yet again still made up of mostly Hydrogen and Helium, but have much higher concentrations of the more stable element Iron and other heavy elements.  Population I star systems are much more likely to contain terrestrial planets.  The Sun (Sol) is a Population I star.

Why is this discussion about "Populations" important to the discussion about the arrival of human-like intelligence?  At the risk of oversimplifying this a bit, I'll state that Population III stars lead to the formation of Population II stars, and Population II stars lead to the formation of Population I stars.  As each generation of stars lived out their lifespans, they made way for the next generation to arise.  Population I stars could not have formed 13.5B years ago; there weren't enough heavy elements around.  Just as today, it is extremely unlikely that Population III stars could arise now; there's too much heavy elements around.

Life is very unlikely to have occurred until Population I stars formed and supported terrestrial planets.  Terrestrial planets in the Goldilocks Zone around their star then had to have the necessary events and composition to allow for the spark of life to occur, and subsequently support life until species of higher intelligence evolves.

Is Earth ahead of the curve for the development of life?

The previously mentioned study suggests that Earth may have developed life to the human-level a bit earlier than average.  The study concludes that, "life around low mass stars in the distant future is much more likely than terrestrial life around the Sun today."[001]  Life throughout the galaxy may be far more common billions of years from now than it is today.  That also means that there may not be any/many other alien species with which we can contact and interact right now.  The study puts our odds at 0.1%.[001]

This could explain why we've not seen evidence of extraterrestrial intelligent life in our galaxy.  Maybe we are among the very first. Others like us are so rare, we will not be able to contact each other.

Maybe a billion years from now, a future intelligent species will evolve on some future (yet to exist) world, and when they point radio telescopes into their  night sky, they receive a song of hundreds of thousands radio signals from just as many other civilizations.  Maybe, if our species is able to continue evolving, our long-from-now-posterity becomes the evil invaders of other worlds, rather than our world being the one constantly invaded, as Hollywood would have us imagine.  Maybe we are the monsters in waiting.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

"Goldilocks zone of metallicity" on a galactic scale

What does the night sky look like to a planet in the Galactic Bulge?  Cool Cosmos describes it as,
Stars in the Galactic Center are so concentrated that they typically are only a few light weeks away from each other. In contrast, our local neighborhood of stars are separated from one another by light years. If we found ourselves on a planet near the Galactic Center, our nighttime sky would light up in a blazing display every night, filled with stars as bright as the planet Venus looks to us.[001]
However, would there be a habitable planet from which to see this sight?  Is there such thing as a solar system being too close to the Galaxy's center to support life?

The concept of Habitable Zones around stars has been studied for a couple of decades.  Life similar to ours can only exist on planets that are a certain distance from their sun.  This is due to the amount of energy from the sun that is received by the planet.  Too much energy, the planet is too hot.  Too little energy, the planet is too cold, hence the Goldilocks reference.

There's another type of Habitable Zone at the galactic scale which uses a somewhat different set of criteria.  Solar systems which have planets that can support life must themselves be made from material that has a lot of elements that are heavier than Helium.  In astronomy, elements heavier than Helium are often referred to as metals.  Metal content of a star is called its metallicity.  The danger is that is if a solar system is made from material that is too rich in metallicity, Earth-sized planets may not be able to exist due to the likelihood of much larger (heavier) worlds displacing those Earth-size planets.  Hence, "Goldilock zone of metallicity" is the idea that certain regions of a galaxy may be too metal-rich and other regions may be metal-poor in order to allow for the presence of Earth-like worlds.[002]

It's not just the metals

Metallicity is not the only factor, however.
Early intense star formation toward the inner Galaxy provided the heavy elements necessary for life, but the supernova frequency remained dangerously high there for several billion years.[002]
If a solar system is too close to the galactic core, the intense supernova frequency in a young galaxy might've keep many worlds from supporting life.  This is because they would have experienced numerous blast waves, cosmic rays, gamma rays and x-rays that are fatal to lifeforms.[002]  As the collective of solar systems age and die, they would have contributed to increasing metallicity.  This means, the right conditions for life on Earth-like planets may have never happened near the galactic core.  Stars that are too close to the galactic core never had and never will have the right conditions to support Earth-like worlds with Earth-like life.

Where can solar systems with habitable planets reside within the Milky Way?  According to the study The Galactic Habitable Zone and the Age Distribution of Complex Life in the Milky Way, the inner bulge component, diffuse halo component, and a thick disk component of our Milky Way Galaxy would not likely allow for Earth-size planets to exist within the right timeframe.[002]  So, the Habitable Zone of our Milky Way Galaxy isn't even really based on distance from the galactic core.  It's a somewhat washer-shape region in between all the places that Earth-sized planets cannot exist within solar systems.

Current Habitable Zone of Milky Way 

Given all of these factors, the authors of the study The Galactic Habitable Zone and the Age Distribution of Complex Life in the Milky Way state,
We identified the Galactic habitable zone (GHZ) as an annular region between 7 and 9 kiloparsecs from the Galactic center that widens with time and is composed of stars that formed between 8 and 4 billion years ago.[002]
Galactic layout © Matthew Lorono 2016

Knowing our Milky Way's Habitable Zone helps us in the search for life on other worlds.  We can focus more efforts on this space.  This isn't to say that this is the only space where life can and does reside.  The Galactic Habitable Zone is just our safest bet for finding evidence of life.

Primary reference:
C. H. Lineweaver,Y. Fenner, B. K. Gibson, Science 303:59–62, DOI: 10.1126/science.1092322, The galactic habitable zone and the age distribution of complex life in the Milky Way

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Hypotheses, Theories, Laws and all that jazz

When I was in high school, I learned about hypotheses, theories, laws and principles.  The problem is that I was taught that these were hierarchical.  It took a long time for me to learn on my own that is not the case. They aren't necessarily stages in the understanding of our Universe.  A single hypothesis does not become a theory.  A theory does not eventually become a law.  A law does not eventually become a principle.  Furthermore, this list is missing the category of models.  Each of these are different things that serve the Scientific Method in different capacities.  Berkeley University of California states,
"Hypotheses, theories, and laws are rather like apples, oranges, and kumquats: one cannot grow into another, no matter how much fertilizer and water are offered. Hypotheses, theories, and laws are all scientific explanations that differ in breadth — not in level of support."[001a]
Question mark
A hypothesis is a proposed or suggested explanation for a phenomenon.  The hypothesis is stated in such a way as to allow for scientific testing for specific expectations.  The hypothesis must be testable in a falsifiable manner.  That means, to test the hypothesis, you must be able to conceive of and test methods that can potentially disprove the hypothesis.

The value of the hypothesis is that it allows us to simplify initial observations into a testable statement so that we can determine if the basis for the hypothesis is true or false.  You can test to find supporting evidence for the hypothesis.  You can also test to find refuting evidence which disproves the hypothesis.  

Hypotheses are typically formed by one or a few persons who then conduct tests as experimenters to prove and disprove it in the pursuit to solve a problem.  A hypothesis is often not a single point in research.  Experimenters may test and reject several hypotheses before solving a problem.  Disproving one particular hypothesis is just as important to Science is proving another hypothesis.[001b]

There is a subcategory of hypotheses called working hypothesis, which have some evidence to support them.  As such, they are tentatively accepted as a basis for further study.

Barbara McClintock in her lab conducting genetic research
A theory is a substantiated and unifying explanation for some aspect of the natural world.  Substantiation is acquired through the Scientific Method, with repeated testing and confirmation using written and predefined protocols for observations and experiments.

Theories are testable and make falsifiable predictions.  They allow for predictions to be made about a phenomenon, and they also explain the causes for the phenomenon.  

Science historian Stephen Jay Gould said, 
“...facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world′s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts.”[002]
Theories are typically formed by consensus by many different people over a substantial period of time.  Theories aren't just thought up by one individual and then magically accepted by everyone else.  They are often heavily debated while they are being formed.  This debate drives further hypotheses and experimentation that eventually helps develop the theory.

Theories are not absolute points.  Once you have a theory, that doesn't mean the matter is settled.  It just means that the evidence up to that point allows you to create a structure that provides both reliable predictions and explanations for phenomenon.  Theories are often modified or replaced when better structures allow for better predictions and explanations.

A classic example of the process of debate to come to an eventual consensus is the Big Bang vs. Steady State theories debate, in which experimentation on both sides eventually lead to a much better understanding of our Universe.[003]

Atmosphere composition diagram representing a scientific model
A model is a often overlooked scientific tool to make a particular aspect of the natural world easier to understand, define, quantify, visualize or simulate based on commonly accepted knowledge.  Modelling requires selecting and identifying relevant aspects of a situation in the real world, then applying techniques such as conceptual models to better understand, operational models to operationalize, mathematical models to quantify and graphical models to visualize the subject.

A model seeks to represent empirical objects, phenomena, and physical processes in a logical and objective way. All models are in simulacra, that is, simplified reflections of reality which allow for useful approximations.

A model is evaluated by its consistency to empirical data.  Inconsistency or irreproducibility of observations must force modification or rejection of a model.  A model must be able to explain past observations, predict future observations and have refutability, just like theories from which the models are typically built.

Thermodynamics and negative resistance
A law is a description of a phenomenon in a particular situation without considering the cause.  Peter Coppinger of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology states,
"Laws are descriptions — often mathematical descriptions — of natural phenomenon; for example, Newton’s Law of Gravity or Mendel’s Law of Independent Assortment. These laws simply describe the observation. Not how or why they work."[004]
Laws are compact generalizations about data.  As with other scientific elements, laws are not immutable.  As more information is learned, laws can be changed.

It is important to note that laws can exist without theories.  Sometimes laws exist for many years before theories explain their causes.[005]

A principle is really just a law that is true by definition.  The terms law and principle are often used interchangeably in Science.  A principle is not a higher grade above a law.  In fact, if you look up "Scientific Principle", your searches will inevitably lead to information regarding laws.

Some persons have suggested that laws can typically be reduced down to precise math formulae, such as the Laws of Thermodynamics and Ohm's Law.  Conversely, the suggestion is that principles are more general descriptions of the nature world.[006]  Examples of such principles are Principle of Original Horizontality and Pareto Principle.

However, even this comparison is not an absolutely held distinction.  For example, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is highly mathematical in nature. Conversely, the Law of Superposition has no mathematical reduction.  So even math provides no real distinction between the use of the words principle and law in Science.

I guess the confusion about the relationships between laws, principles, hypotheses, theories and models is that it is not hierarchically ordered.  It seems counter-intuitive that Science, being the mechanism that has brought so much order to our understanding of the world, is itself not similarly ordered.  But, there's good reason for this.  Science doesn't work in absolutes.  Nothing is absolutely knowable.  As such, everything we know is subject to be revised based on what we later learn.  Having some sort of truth gradient would slow down the progress of learning since managing such grading would be an unnecessary distraction from the search for knowledge.

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