Sunday, July 23, 2017

What Ever Happened to Civili Discourse

I am getting so numb to the rhetoric on all the news networks that I have forgotten the civility of those Obama years that Trump supporters and many republicans point to as the evil Obama era.  He was called a liar, illegitimate, and far worse, but remained a gentleman.  The other night, MSNBC posted a video of the then new commander in chief in 2010 taking questions from the audience. Below is an excerpt.

Obama reacts with polite banter to Wall Street guy Anthony Scaramucci (Trump's new white house communications director), who is critical of Obama's handling of the aftermath of the burst housing bubble.  There is no name calling.  Obama sates the facts (which are verifiable) in support of his reasoning to tax the wealthy at the same rate as their low-paid secretaries. Scaramucci is ashamed by the facts.

This is how issues should be debated.  I would feel far more comfortable with Trump's presidency if he gave an open town hall meeting (not a rally aimed at his diehard supporters) were he responds to critics with reasoned answers.  Instead, he rants about crowd size, inflates his accomplishments by counter-factually huge amounts, and makes disparaging remarks about anyone who disagrees with his warped view of reality.  This in turn releases a frenzied response from liberals who are attacked by conservatives in an endless and escalating cycle.  This must stop.

Let's come together as Americans who love the freedoms and institutions that make this country great and debate the issues with civility, calling upon facts to make measured arguments.  Let's quote legitimate sources rather than ideological echo chambers.  Let's respect each other's views without dismissing our ideological opposites.  We can disagree and debate, but let's not call each other names or brand members of a group by their most extreme members.

I challenge all of us to start an honest and sincere grass roots movement of civil discourse where everyone can voice his or her own opinion, not to convince others, but to bring clarity to the motivations of those with whom we disagree.  Hell with our leaders; let's resolve our differences at the local level, where it matters most, and let it percolate upward to those who represent us.

I strongly urge newspapers and other media to play a more active role in mediated debate.  Encourage pairs of writers or bloggers with opposing views to weigh in on the same issue, perhaps even encouraging a back-and-forth exchange, calling upon fact checkers to enforce honesty.  If we're lucky, perhaps civil discourse will once again become the norm.   We can accomplish so much more if we work together and use reality, peppered with reasoned opinion, as the the basis for making decisions.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Anderson Windows Bad Screen Design

All of our new Anderson casement windows have two clips to hold the screen. The screens bow, so there is more than a 0.5" gap at the top and bottom, letting in the bugs.  The video above shows a video of the gap as I push on the screen.  The model numbers can be found on the stickers as shown below. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Short Note On How We Know About Anthropomorphic Climate Change

The purpose of this post is to provide a simple explanation for how we know with a high degree of confidence that climate change is due to humans.

The plot shows the land-ocean temperatures for the years that saw a huge increase of the quantity of carbon that humanity has added to the atmosphere.  The points are yearly values and the red curve a five-year average, which smooths out the fluctuations to highlight the general trend (source: NASA with data at  The shaded area shows the total carbon emission each year from human activities (source: Department of Energy with data at

I won't go into details of how heating of the oceans and air affect climate because this phenomenon is well known and not a topic of debate.  The point of contention is proof that humans are responsible.  The plot shows excellent correlation between the mass of greenhouse gasses that are emitted by human activities and the temperature.  But correlation is not proof of causation, so how do we know that we are to blame?

The science is too complex to argue in a public forum.  The reason for the high degree of certainty is based on the many different streams of evidence that converge on the same conclusion.  It's like all compasses pointing to magnetic north; those that don't are found to be broken and point randomly, refuting the assertion that the vast number of north-pointing compasses must be wrong.

This convergence of many independent lines of evidence in support of a conclusion is called consilience, a topic that is well explained by Michael Shermer in Scientific American, and can be found at  This is a must read for all non-scientists who want to understand how science works and why it is so reliable.

Some people may blame scientists, who base professional judgements on extensive knowledge and consilience, of being arrogant.  A proclamation of a "truth" that goes against the accumulated evidence of a scientific field is true arrogance.  Basing policy that goes against consilience is sheer folly and muzzling the fruits of consilience is the ultimate crime.

It would be a waste of my time to fully analyze the literature on my own.  I trust the scientists working in the field who build high-tech apparatuses, take data over decades, and meticulously analyze it.  After all, the consilience they have reached is the result of extensive professional debate.  It is arrogant for citizens without expertise in a field to deny anthropomorphic climate change based on the fact that Moscow Idaho has been exceptionally cold this winter.  Policy should be based on the best evidence that science has to offer, and the scientists -- as a group -- with expertise in areas related to climate science are the ones who should be trusted by the public.


Global warming is a scientifically imprecise term because it focuses on the temperature increase, which is a consequence of extra trapped energy.  When light from the sun is absorbed by air, the earth's surface, and oceans, that energy is converted to heat.  Heat is simply the flow of energy in the form of motions of atoms and molecules.  Some of the energy of the warm earth is radiated through infrared light, but greenhouse gasses absorb that light, preventing it from escaping the earth's atmosphere, thus  converting it to heat.  Greenhouse gasses pass sunlight but block the infrared light that is needed for cooling, leading to a buildup of heat and thus an increase of the temperature.

The temperature increase due to a unit of heat energy depends on the mass of the object.  Since the oceans are so much more massive than the earth's atmosphere, the average ocean temperature will increase less than the atmosphere for a given amount of heating.  Since the energy imbalance driven by greenhouse gases is the key process at work, ocean and atmosphere temperatures must be combined if the effects of greenhouse gasses are to be accurately assessed.  That is why the land-ocean temperature composite is a good index of global heating.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Rise of a Dictator

Writing puts ideas into a visual form, aiding the writer in clarifying his or her thoughts.  The written word is also an efficient means for transmitting information that is well suited to contemplation.  In contrast, Trump tweets and arouses his followers by yanking at their emotional strings, blinding them to reason.  It matters little to them that much of what Trump says is utter nonsense that often contradicts his own recorded words from the past.  There is no need to consult the "crooked" media.  One can easily verify Trump's duplicitousness through his Twitter feed or recordings of his own words that can be found across the internet.

Trump spews many lies. Each one demands a rebuttal that is grounded in fact and an analysis that through logic illustrates the dangerous consequences of his intended actions.  Unfortunately, the sheer volume of lies and inaccuracies makes it impossible to have a true discourse that leads to effective policies.

Each day, I intend to write about his most crazy utterance, but there are just too many of them to keep up.  So instead, I decided to let off some steam by writing this post.

I feel that it is in the best interest of us all to preserve our democracy -- a precious but fragile gift.  Democracy allowed Trump to win, and our citizenry deserves a chance to vote Trump out of office in four years if his actions fail to enrich our society.

In closing, below I have produced a list of techniques needed to become a dictator.  How many of these has Trump used and how far down the list will he get?

  • 1. Use fear to convince your population to give up its freedom for security
  • 2. Identify a scapegoat group that you can blame for society's ills
  • 3. Discredit the press to limit information, maximize disinformation, and prevent scrutiny of your actions.
  • 4. Weaken the judiciary so that you can be above the law
  • 5. Imprison the opposition
  • 6. Surround yourself with miliary leaders that are loyal to you
  • 7. Empower the police to control the population rather than protect it
  • 8. When things go wrong, blame others and lie
  • 9. Use your power to enrich yourself

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inner and Outer Space

I'll be around another 40 years if my lifespan is as long as my father’s and eleven years if I match my mother's time on this earth.  It gets me thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my life. My frustration is that time is too short to pursue all of my ideas for research projects and that I will never understand all the paradoxes that have been gnawing at me over the years.

Contrary to the common misconception that physics is cold and impersonal, I have found it to be the ideal tool for answering the deepest questions.  Some may yearn for the meaning of life, but an understanding of reality as physics delivers makes it clear that this is a nonsensical question.  It’s like asking if a table feels cold, and seeking an answer through surveys of opinions on the topic or engaging in philosophical debates about the possibility of a soul entering the table from its woodlands progenitor.  An understanding of what constitutes life makes irrational the notion that a hunk of wood has the capacity for feeling.  The fact that the complexities of life are not fully understood is irrelevant.  We know enough to eliminate the absurd.

I would like to spend my remaining days, months, years or decades gaining a deeper understanding of my trade, which gives me the tools to answer the grandest questions.  For starters, there are many things that I’ve learned that don’t sit well.  For example, physicists use sleight of hand to sweep away ignorance of details.  Statistical Mechanics is a field that is based on such broad strokes of chicanery.  However, it makes exquisitely accurate predictions that are consistent with reality, so must be an excellent approximation, but it can’t be totally correct.  My objection is that it glosses over the most interesting phenomena, such as quantum entanglement.

Why is entanglement so interesting? If the universe operates by the rules of quantum mechanics, and all indications are that it does, then we are all interconnected and always will be.  There is no escape from this bondage, even if trying to escape by hopping on a ship and taking it through a wormhole to the far reaches of the universe.  It is likely that the universe as a whole is in a state of entanglement and Statistical Mechanics governs how our conscious minds perceive it from within.  I so much would like to understand that fuzzy transition from the quantum realm to human perception.

I’ve been hampered by a dampening of enthusiasm, which drains the precious energy that is needed to single-mindedly attack difficult problems. Since my father’s passing just before Christmas in 2014, I’ve been in a general state of malaise that makes it difficult to concentrate and make progress.  In part, this melancholy is due to his absence, but much of it stems from the realization that the currents of time have caught up with me and I am now the patriarch – the last one of my line, as he was for so many years.  I hope that taking the torch from him does not oblige me to inherit the pessimism that took hold of him later in life.

These realizations have motivated me to take stock of my life, and to anticipate every possible regret in the making; should I have written that book, more intensely pursued an idea for a research project, spent less time writing proposals and more time actually thinking; or, concentrating more on family?  There is still time to correct shortcomings before hindsight’s souring influence.  Sadly, every time I say to myself “screw it,” intending to drop unproductive activities such administrative burdens, a pang of guilt pushes me to write the next proposal – bringing me to an eternal seesawing between regret and guilt.

An antidote for my malaise has been a book-writing project with my wife that brings unbridled joy and fulfillment.  Like a course of antibiotics, writing must be regular to be a long-term cure.  A published book is not the goal; we rather enjoy the process.  We have outlined several milestones in our lives, some from our childhood, and others after we came together. Then we write about each from our own perspectives, going back in time to observe the threads of our intertwining lives from a fresh perspective.

After a nightly session, we return from our parallel universes to share our stories.  Pat reads each of our pieces in her dramatic story-telling style, arousing our memories of the past and kindling an appreciation of its connection to the present.  The earliest memories of family gives us a glimpse of the important figures in our lives and what they mean to us long after significant events have passed and loved ones are gone.  The holes that their absences have created are filled with their love and priorities, which we honor by carrying them forward in our own ways – then passing the baton to the next generation by example and through our writings.

One story line chronicles a serious illness that hospitalized each of us in early grade school, setting chronological markers that give insights about our character and the deep connection with family they forged when confronted with the frailty of our lives.  As we saunter to the more recent past, our timelines move together haphazardly. Our writings eventually merge, touching the same events from vastly differing perspectives that brings a poignancy to our memories that would otherwise have been forgotten.

First contact came on a muggy August day when my family shows up on Scott Lane in 1968 across the street from my future wife.  She is greatly disappointed that the new resident is a ten year old boy.  The cooties-infested neighborhood swarmed like locusts on our front lawn, the girls taking perches on our new mimosa tree to re-affirm their claim bestowed upon them by the previous owners.  Coming from Sun Hill, Chester’s tough working-class neighborhood, I thought Wallingford to be a wonderfully strange place where girls grow on trees.  The stories continue beyond that fateful day almost a decade later when we were re-introduced to each other on a commuter train; Pat, to study for a final exam at the Temple University library, and me to take data at my University of Pennsylvania lab.

My life will not be complete unless I use the tools of physics to pursue the universe’s mysteries while nurturing my inner self with shared writing.  The two are inexorably entwined; one will have no meaning without the other. Sadly, neither Pat nor I have written a single word together for many months because of time demands of work and Pat’s barrier to write.  It is especially sad to be deprived of Pat’s writing, which is concise yet rich; embeds subtle irony in the mundane, drops unexpected twists, and expresses her emotions indirectly though prose about her actions.  More important to me, I feel a sadness that memories that are struggling to be released will slip away before she will reveal them to me, a precious loss.

I am committed to strike a better balance in my life, placing our cherished passions first, then prioritizing the rest.  With a growing pile of obligations on my desk, I have taken the first step by writing this therapeutic piece to convince myself to get back on track and to reaffirm my support to Pat so that she will once again fight to overcome her writer’s block, which deprives us all.  Write on!