Gravitational Waves

The video in this link describes in a simple manner the consequences of the  recently announced discovery of Gravitational Waves.  Their existence is final proof that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is correct.  It also potentially gives us a new tool for extending astronomical observations so that we can learn more about our universe.

This discovery of gravitational waves also conclusively proves that Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, that is used effectively in everyday physics even to this day is only an approximation.  This approximation can still be used since it works in almost real life cases that we experience. The application of this law begins to fall apart where there are very large gravitational fields present due to massive objects and short distances between objects.  (Approximations are not necessarily a bad thing so long as you recognize them as such, and also recognize their limitations.)

Einstein was the genius who could see things beyond the boundaries of the normal human experiences that are the basis of all of our perceptions.  He could then come up with universal laws in this regard, laws that are based on science that can be proved and not simply based on belief.  He was an amazing person.

It is fashionable these days in some circles to challenge the scientific approach and scientific results, and to label some of these as beliefs, as if the scientific process is akin to following a religion and a belief system.  Such an attitude only shows ignorance, and a laziness when it comes to trying to understand things.  This kind of attitude is unfortunately increasing in societies that are supposed to be advanced.  Check this comic strip out.  (I do not want to reproduce the strip in its entirely here for fear of violating copyright.)

 

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Life Imitates Art

How does the photograph really capture life?
Can the imitation of art also be artistic?
Should the art that is being imitated be something created by somebody else?

In the first part of my response I have series of pictures of nature that in general look like paintings to me. Since paintings are works of art by definition (may not be good art, but art nonetheless!), I think these could fall into the category of life imitating art.IMG_7057IMG_7073IMG_7196IMG_7339OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I believe this last picture is more in tune with the theme imagined by the author of the challenge.
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For more pictures submitted for this week’s challenge visit this site.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Time

Time is an integral part of almost everything that we experience in our lives today. Almost everything that we do takes into consideration the time factor, whether it be the time taken to accomplish the task, or the time at which the task is expected to begin, or where it should end.  The modern world also has an insatiable need to be as efficient as possible with regards to how time is spent.  We always seem to be in a hurry.

Perhaps it is useful to understand/recognize that the pervasiveness of the “time-factor” in human experience is something that has changed over history, and that time was not this important in times past.   (Some of you may already know the interesting story of the role played by the railroads in establishing time zones.)  These days the concept of time has been taken to its limits, with even fractions of seconds becoming significant in our experiences.  Athletic events are judged and winners determined by time differences that lie in the order of 100ths of seconds.  The timing of signals in the electronics that we all use today is at the nanosecond level.

I cannot help feeling that the human entanglement with the concept of time is at an unhealthy extreme today, and that this is perhaps the result of the advancement of technology and also what we call progress.  The way we interact with time today forms the basis of our continued existence as a civilization.  There is no escaping it.  (As an aside, it is interesting to note that physicists today are not even sure whether time exists at the most fundamental level of physical reality.)

But if we step back and and look at time from a more philosophical perspective, we can go in so many different directions with the theme!  Time may sometimes be defined by a state of mind.

The atmosphere in the pictures below gives me a feeling of time slowing down.

The pictures below make me think about the impact of the passage of time on the lives of people.  What happened to these people?  Why did they abandon these homes and did they go to a better place?

The pictures below remind me of the damage caused by humans to the planet over time.

Finally, time is topic covered in a lot of music.  Here is an oldie that I still enjoy listening to.

The Anthropocene Epoch

The geological time-scale of Planet Earth is classified at the highest level in supereons,  the first of which was the Precambrian.   The supereons break down into eons, then further into eras, periods, and finally epochs.  We live in the Phanerozoic eon of a post-precambrian supereon (that apparently does not have an official name for it today).  According to the experts, we are officially in the Holocene epoch, which began about 11,700 years ago after the last major ice age.  (Interestingly enough, this period of time only represents less than a millionth of the history of the earth.)

Recently, the argument has been raised that we should consider ourselves to be in a new new epoch after the Holocene. This epoch should represent the period of time when the impact of human beings on the earth has become significant and non-reversible.  In the past, epochs were broken down based on times of geological change, but the argument is now being made that one should also consider environmental impacts.  Regarding human beings, these changes probably began to accelerate with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, and the rate of change has only increased since then.  While there is probably no exact moment in time that can be pinpointed as a “turning point”, it is clear that we now cannot turn back our impact on the planet.  (I have argued in the past that all changes take place over some period of time even if some of these changes seem to be instantaneous within the time-frames that we are familiar with.)

Even though it is not officially recognized, people are calling the current period of time in the earth’s history the Anthropocene epoch.

Here is an online presence for an organization dedicated to this concept.

Even the Smithsonian is modifying its exhibition space to devote resources to talking about the human impacts on the earth.

A fundamental theme in the consideration of the existence of a new epoch is that humans have finally managed to change the nature of the planet to the extent that  we cannot ignore our environmental impacts.  The destruction caused is irreversible.   It is a sad consequence of our progress, of our knowledge and technology, of our “civilization”.  What will the post-Anthropocene epoch look like when all is said and done?   Or perhaps we will all be destroyed by some cosmic event that we have no control over and none of this will matter in the long run.  I suppose the post-Anthropocene epoch could still happen due to other reasons.

http://www.explainthatstuff.com/land-pollution.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soil_contamination

http://www.explainthatstuff.com/waterpollution.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_pollution

http://www.explainthatstuff.com/air-pollution-introduction.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_pollution

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_garbage_patch

Weekly Photo Challenge: Vibrant

Vibrancy in the image domain seems to come from the presence of a variety of colors  enhanced by good lighting.  Unfortunately, my pictures of the outdoors do not include a great variety of colors in each of them, but I have sometimes been able to get myself in a good position at the right time to bring something out in the objects being photographed because of lighting.

I had to find the right position to get this vibrant effect in the picture of a tree.
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The skies at sunset.
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I think there is vibrancy in pictures of flowers in the sunlight.
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Autumn is always a good time to try to get pictures of leaves in a vibrant setting.
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Other pictures in the vibrant theme can be seen here.

Slavery In The World Today

I happened to tune to part of an episode of NPR’s Fresh Air program that caught my attention while I was driving home a few days back.  They were talking about slavery in the world today.  I was shocked for a couple of reasons.  The first was the realization that an institution that people have for a long time recognized as being abhorrent, and have condemned in the civilized world, still exists today.  In spite of all the technological and social advances in the world we have not found a way to uplift the life of so many people in all parts of the world.  In fact inequality probably exists to a far greater extent today than it ever did before. Would you believe that the statistics indicate that there are more than 20 million “slaves” in the world today?

You can also check out this older article on this topic from the Washington Post.

The second reason for my shock was the realization that a significant component of today’s slavery is due to the western world.  In our quest for cheaper goods and certain luxuries that we take for granted, we accept whatever process provides us with our  quality of lives with our eyes closed, and do not question how such a situation can come to be.  There has already been some publicity about how inexpensive clothes that are available in the west are sometimes created on the backs of exploited children in third-world countries.  But there are other aspects of our comfortable lives that are also dependent on the lives of exploited people.  I learned from the show that some of the rarer metals (cobalt , tantalum, etc.,) used in devices such as our smart phones for components like batteries and capacitors can come from slave mines in West Africa.  Folks, these are not just exploited people, they are real slaves with no freedom to live as they want.  The vendors manufacturing these products may actually not even know how exactly the raw material that goes into their products is obtained.   We, the consumers, are quite thrilled with getting a new, and very often subsidized, smartphone every other year for an inexpensive price from the service provider.  We consume so much of the product that the demand for the raw material cannot always be met by legitimate means.  There are consequences!

Think about it.  We are in the 21st century, and some of us have been fortunate to be able to live in circumstances where we do not have to worry about the basic necessities, and where we take a lot of what would be considered luxuries for granted, while at the same time there are people who are slaves who have nothing!   And if one is the cause for the continued existence of the other, humanity should be ashamed of itself.

But, surprisingly to me, I did find quite a bit of information while searching the Internet about this subject.  There is even a Wikipedia article on the topic.  There are organizations and people that are trying to bring attention to the problem.  There are people in this world with a conscience.  Here is one such link.

http://thoughtcatalog.com/daniel-hayes/2015/06/facts-about-modern-slavery/

 

The FCC and Set-top Boxes

The dramatic headline “The FCC is going to war over set-top boxes” brought back memories of the time I was dealing with regulatory issues in the world of entertainment.   I think some things will never change as long as there is big money involved and there exists the institution of lobbying.  The battle to change the existing paradigm regarding processing and delivery of entertainment content to consumer eyes from signals that are delivered to the home by the cable companies, and to a certain extent satellite TV companies, has been ongoing for years.  It is the traditional television content delivery guys trying to protect their turf against the home entertainment guys who want to expand the reach of their systems and control how the consumers interface with the cable TV guy’s signals.   If you think that the opposition to the current cable TV signal handling paradigm in the home comes from organizations that are trying to protect the consumer and have their goodwill at heart, think again.  It is companies like Google and Sony who are on the other side, with their own business interests at heart.

It is all about business and money at the end of the day.  And I have to throw up my hands and laugh at the absurdity of all of it, because all of this fuss, and the use of significant monetary resources, is about entertainment and the distraction of the population, something far removed from the more basic needs of the people at large.  While reading the article above I came upon this video from John Oliver from a long while back on the topic of Net Neutrality.  It is dated at this point but still hilarious!

There is another battle well underway in parallel in the entertainment world where the forces of business are trying to change the way entertainment actually gets into your home.  Companies like Netflix and Amazon actually deliver entertainment content via the Internet, which is of course a very non-traditional approach to doing things.  Considering that the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are almost always the cable companies themselves, this leads to the development of interesting business strategies by the cable companies to try to optimize return to their shareholders, all of which is supported by suitable lobbying of the government that is hoped to result in regulatory regimes that benefit one company or the other.

For heaven’s sake, it is only entertainment!