A Challenging Coronavirus Take from an Iraqi Muslim

Dr. Manal Hadi Kanaan is a lecturer of microbiology and anatomy in the Technical Institute of Suwaira/Middle Technical University in Iraq.  She recently posted this on Researchgate, which means in front of her peers, about COVID-19.  Her English is not the best but her idea is clear (emphasis mine):

In light of the circumstances in the world today, we see situations of fear, apprehension, and caution filling the continents in light of the spread of this epidemic. Sometimes we ask ourselves about the reason for the spread of this epidemic, and some of us start blaming others about its spread and its invasion of the countries of the world, whether these countries are developed or developing, and we find ourselves powerless in front of this very small creature that does not see under the light microscope but rather under the electron microscope. Then we go back to ask how it spread and how it developed itself to be so strong. Is the reason is food habits and that it has moved from the original host has snakes and bats to humans, in my area as a scientist in the field of bacteria, when bacteria move to a place other than the place of their natural presence it may turn from commensals bacteria to pathogens. Was this the reason, or are we in a real confrontation between the creature that God has honored (human being) with the smallest creature which is the virus? Perhaps the presence of this challenge is a test for us from the Creator to show us that whatever we have reached in science and whatever we have evolved, we are unable to face the smallest creature he has. How much we harmed each other, how much we have forgiven our accomplishments and how much we have suffered from each other’s injustice, but today we are powerless in front of this so little creature. So, in your opinion, how can we face this epidemic?

To be honest this makes a lot more sense than the “judgement of God” musings going around certain Christian circles.  It’s more in line with, for example, what God told Job in Job 40-41.


When Social Distancing from the Plague Pays Off

It sure did for Sir Isaac Newton, this from The World of Mathematics:

Newton took his degree from Cambridge early in 1665.  In the autumn of that year the great plague, which was raging in London, caused the University to close, and Newton went back to live at the isolated little house at Woolsthorpe where he was born in 1642.  Here he spent most of his time until the spring of 1667, when the University reopened and he returned…Newton is throughout his life an enigmatic figure, but nothing is more extraordinary than his development in the period from 1663 to the spring of 1667…By the time of his return to Cambridge it is tolerably certain that he had already firmly laid the foundations of his work in the three great fields with which his name is for ever associated–the calculus, the nature of white light, and universal gravitation and its consequences.

Newton himself describes it in this way:

In the same year [1666] I began to think of gravity extending to the orb of the moon, and having found out how to estimate the force with which a globe revolving within a sphere presses the surface of the sphere, from Kepler’s rule of the periodical times of the planets being in a sesquialternate proportion of their distances from the centres of their orbs [sesquialternate means one and a half times, or, as we say, the square of the years are as the cubes of the orbits] I deduced that the forces which keep the planets in their orbs must be reciprocally as the squares of their distances from the centres about which they revolve: and thereby compared the force requisite to keep the moon in her orb with the force of gravity at the surface of the earth, and found them answer pretty nearly.  All this was in the two plague years of 1665 and 1666, for in those days I was in the prime of my age for invention, and minded mathematics and philosophy more than at and time since.

I’m Kristen Karman-Shoemake and This Is How I Mesh — Another Fine Mesh

I was born in Arlington, TX and spent most of my childhood in and around the Fort Worth area. When I was in high school, my family moved to Chattanooga, TN. I then went on to UTK for my undergraduate degree. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life and ended […]

via I’m Kristen Karman-Shoemake and This Is How I Mesh — Another Fine Mesh

Kristen and I went to graduate school together, along with her husband Lawton.  Their wedding–coming as it did at the end of many of our dissertation defences in 2016, was a delight and “the event of the season” for weary graduate students.  She is also a Roman Catholic, and the wedding was, as I like to say, #straightouttairondale.  (Which we had to explain to our fellow students from Iran and China and Ghana and…)

Remembering the Anti-Moon Luddites — Chet Aero Marine

Today, of course, is the fiftieth anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon–“one giant leap for mankind,” to be sure. It was a great accomplishment and deserves to be remembered. It’s easy to forget, however, that at the time there were many–especially on the left–who believed that the whole enterprise was a mistake, […]

via Remembering the Anti-Moon Luddites — Chet Aero Marine

YouTube Closes in on the Cover Artists

ICYMI, I’ve migrated the music that’s been on this site to YouTube.  That took some time and effort but I think it’s worth it.  The central reason for that is that it gives the artists (and their record companies) the opportunity to earn some revenue off of the music, even though most of them are either unable or unwilling to put the music back into distribution.  As many of you know, this site specialises in the “Jesus Music” era of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

In the process of doing this, some of the albums were claimed by their copyright holders, usually the record companies or their agents, successors or assigns (how’s that for a little legalese!)  And that’s fine; I didn’t go on YouTube to make money, and the channel (thanks to the recent change in YouTube rules) isn’t eligible for monetization because it doesn’t draw enough traffic.  I’m glad to see that we’ve got a workable mechanism (not perfect but workable) to link the copyright holders with their music.

Most of the claims made during the process were for albums released by secular labels (which did happen in the Jesus Music era) where the album came from.  There are a few for Christian labels, but they’re the exception, not the rule.  But virtually all of the claims came for original artists.

This week I’ve seen a rash of claims for “covers,” i.e., songs not performed by the original artists.  This is something new.  It indicates to me that the algorithm for determining which songs are which has stepped up.  With the new regulations coming from Europe, that’s going to be a survival mechanism.  This tells me that YouTube has stepped up its game on this.

Fortunately in all cases they just claim revenue and let the album stay up.  I suppose that, for music this old and frequently obscure, they’re glad to have any exposure for it, especially when someone else goes to the trouble of putting it out there.  As of now this situation is IMHO a happy one for everyone, and I hope it stays that way.

Science Still Lives Somewhere

Recently I posted a piece entitled The Day Science Died where I lamented the fall of a real scientific/technological urge in our society after we landed men on the moon in 1969.

Evidently that urge is still out there, in this case Israel:

A dramatic nighttime launch from Cape Canaveral sent Israel’s privately funded lunar lander on its way to a rendezvous with history. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on hand in the control room.

“It’s a big step for Israel but a giant step for Israeli technology. The strength of Israel in the world is rising, rising, rising and rising to the moon,” Netanyahu said.

Israel’s not the only country where STEM has “pride of place” in society, but it’s one that gets a disproportionate amount of attention, most of it negative.  One wonders but that the source of a great deal of antisemitism out there is jealousy and fear of the accomplishments of the Jewish people, both in and out of STEM.  When Nazi Minister of Education Bernhard Rust asked David Hilbert whether Göttingen’s Mathematical Institute had suffered as a result of the purge of the Jews, Hilbert replied, “Suffered? It doesn’t exist any longer, does it!”

Hopefully, unlike their American counterparts, both of these goals will be achieved:

“We want the Israeli kids and the Israeli youth to, we want to encourage them to learn STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and informatics – and we hope that they will have this mission we will create the effect and encourage them. The second goal is to promote the space industry here in Israel … And I think we got it – one of the goals is already achieved,” explained Dr. Ido Antebi, CEO of SpaceIL.

The Day Science Died

This week’s post comes on my companion website, Chet Aero Marine, and is entitled The Day Science Died.

But the other thing that came in reading this book was an ache–an ache for a time when we were literally reaching for the stars (or at least the moon.)  The passing of that time–something that basically lost its momentum after the moon shots and never quite got it back–is a point in history when something seriously died in this country, and that was a general commitment to the advancement of our state with science.


The War on–and for–Coal is a Waste of Time

Some think we’re on a downturn with coal:

Across Europe and the U.S., the decline in coal output recently has averaged close to 5 percent a year. If the world as a whole can reach 7 percent a year, it would be on track to meet the IPCC’s 2030 target.

The conventional wisdom is that this isn’t possible, as rising demand from emerging economies, led by China and India, overwhelms the switch from fossil fuels in richer countries. That may underestimate the changing economics of energy generation, though.

There is one basic reality that needs to be understood: coal is a mess.  It’s expensive to transport, messy to use (a boiler fired with coal is job security for those who clean it) and a pain to dispose of, as TVA found out the hard way at Harriman a few years back.

As someone who produced steam-driven equipment until the 1990’s, I can show you photo after photo of boilers in action fuelled by coal.  Before World War I most of our equipment, along with most construction equipment, was powered that way.  Homes were heated with coal; the house my great-grandfather and his brothers grew up in disposed of its chimneys and went to coal heating, appropriate for designers and builders of steam boilers and steam powered equipment.

But coal is, in the long run, always edged out by other, easier to transport and burn, fuels, or fuels that aren’t burnt at all.  With the spread of compressed air and hydraulics, steam and coal were banished from the construction site, and the equipment still powered by steam used oil-fired boilers, as we sold the Chinese in the 1980’s.  But the biggest enemy of coal–a fact not acknowledged in the article–has been natural gas, and the fracking boom has pushed coal off the stage faster than just about anything else.   There are of course the renewables, but for massive energy production these are not quite ready for prime time.  There is also nuclear power, but the environmental movement isn’t big enough to admit its mistake to allow it to displace fossil-fuel burning on a large scale, its angst over climate change notwithstanding.

Coal gets heavily used in the early stages of industrialisation because it’s located near the industrialisation, as was the case in the UK, US, Germany and later Russia and China.  But as soon as things move down the road, coal is inevitably displaced, perhaps not at the rate one would like but displaced all the same.

It’s in that context that Barack Obama’s “war on coal”–and Donald Trump’s reversal of same–needs to be seen as a waste of time.  It’s what happens when optics and politics get put in front of reality, and the less of that in our society, the better.

My Mention in @CampusReform About Women and the Principles and Practices Engineering Exam

With a new semester starting, it’s only apropos to mention the back and forth I’ve been having about the Principles and Practices Engineering Exam, which probably seems like a pretty arcane topic…until two Kansas State academics noted that women have a lower first-time pass rate than men do.

That occasioned an article by Toni Airaksinen of Campus Reform on the subject.  One of the suggestions of the academics was that the exam itself might be biased against women.  I found this difficult to believe and wrote a response to it on my vulcanhammer.net blog/site, which concerns itself with engineering topics.  While not directly attacking the conclusions, I expressed the opinion that one reason for the disparity may be in the timing of the exam, which is very problematic for reasons beyond this issue and whose fix is an ongoing effort of societies which are involved in this process.

My response was featured in a follow-up article by Airaksinen on the topic, which also includes a response from NCEES (who actually write this exam,) who inform us that they screen the questions for bias.  Having prepared engineering tests for a number of years, I have no idea how one screens exam questions for bias against women, but my female students have done pretty well over the years taking my tests.

Since the 1960’s engineering has suffered attacks from the various movements that exploded during that era, some of which challenged the basic good of technological progress.  The profession has made a major effort to address these objections, but with the “Running Rusty” mentality in the SJW movement, that’s not easy for anyone.  Our society needs to address the reality that, to survive in the world we live in, we need to shift to STEM as the centrepiece of our educational system rather than the appendage.   If that happened I believe we’d see women as a larger part of our profession, and that would be a good thing.  There are signs of progress but we’ve got a long way to go.

The Valuable Lesson Silicon Valley Needs to Learn from the Thai Rescue

Sometimes patience is required to solve a problem:

Instead of venting, Mr. Musk — indeed, Silicon Valley as a whole — can perhaps see the Thai operation as a lesson. This was a most improbable rescue against the longest odds. Safely navigating 12 kids and one adult, many of whom were not swimmers, through a dangerous cave relied on a model of innovation that Silicon Valley can and should learn from.

The Silicon Valley model for doing things is a mix of can-do optimism, a faith that expertise in one domain can be transferred seamlessly to another and a preference for rapid, flashy, high-profile action. But what got the kids and their coach out of the cave was a different model: a slower, more methodical, more narrowly specialized approach to problems, one that has turned many risky enterprises into safe endeavors — commercial airline travel, for example, or rock climbing, both of which have extensive protocols and safety procedures that have taken years to develop.

Self-proclaimed know-it-alls–even those with some record of success–are a nuisance and a menace, but these days the “Silicon Valley model” seems to be in the ascendant in American society and thinking, such as it is.  Having been in a field and a business where a model closer to the Thais’ is the rule, it’s easy to see the Silicon Valley model, while it’s done remarkable things, leaves many “loose ends” and unintended consequences (consider Facebook’s woes as a good example) in its wake.  Who knows, we just might make progress on our political mess if we took a more thoughtful and deliberate approach…