R.I.P Freeman Dyson

Freeman Dyson aged 96 passed away on February 28, 2020. Although ‘Mr’ Dyson (he was a big critic of the modern PhD system) made major contributions to The Manhattan Project, Quantum Electrodynamics, solid state physics and astronomy he is probably best know for his “Dyson Sphere”, a hypothetical structure an advanced civilization would build around their star to catch all the light to use for power.

This structure became a common meme in Sci-Fi stories. (e.g. Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” series and the STNG episode “Relics” the one where they find Scotty) He worked for most of his career at the Institute for Advanced Studies and was a good friend of Richard Feynman. His autobiography “Disturbing the Universe” was a very good read.

He is was the father of Ester Dyson (high tech angel investor) and author George Dyson (“Turing’s Cathedral”) which I would also recomend.

Freeman Dyson

NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson dies at 101

Mathematician. Leader. Heroine.

Katherine Johnson not only helped calculate the trajectories that took our Apollo astronauts to the Moon — she was champion for women and minorities in the space program and the world as a whole. We honor her memory today. https://t.co/kH9qEEvdMY pic.twitter.com/A341ukDFTl— Women@NASA (@WomenNASA) February 24, 2020

Katherine Johnson with her Presidential Medal of Freedom

Nothing more need be said here. “God Speed” Katherine.


Success! Gaia source has been downloaded. 61,234 files, 547GB, ~35 hours. A copy has been created on the backup drive.

Thank you ESA for sharing this data. Now it is time to unzip the files. That is going to take some time and I need to order a nice new drive.

Downloading the Universe

As I write this I am downloading the European Space Agency’s Gaia Data Release 2 data files. It is going to take some time to do this as there is information on more than 1 billion stars which is in excess of 40GB of compressed csv files each between 2 and 5 MB.

I found a cool program to do this. It is called “Internet Download Manager” and it lets you walk a list of files on a website and transfer them to your computer. It’s like downloading the Universe.

Book Review: “The Quantum Moment”

Maybe the only positive thing about being down with a cold is that it gives you time to read. My cold book this time was “The Quantum Moment, How Plank, Bohr, Einstein and Heisenberg taught us to love uncertainty” by Robert Crease and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber.

I am fascinated by Relativity and Quantum Physics and have read a large number of books and articles on the subjects over the years. This one was unusually good. Taken from a class the authors, one a Physicist one a Philosopher, teach at Stony Brook University it attempts not just to explain the Physics and the people behind the discoveries but the cultural effects of the discoveries as they percolate out into society. The “Quantum Moment” is the time when the probabilistic Quantum Mechanical view of the world largely replaced the cause and effect Newtonian one.

Relativity is the more easily explained of the two. Anybody with a desire to understand the principles can work their way through a good explanation and feel satisfied at the end. The maths is even doable for large parts of it assuming a couple of Calculus classes in college. The book does not delve into Relativity except where it touches Quantum Mechanics.

The Mathematics of Quantum Mechanics on the other hand is largely well beyond a couple of College Maths and Physics classes. We are forced therefore to accept the Physics from the experts, many of whom are not skilled at communicating with the general public. We only have their word as experts and the artifacts produced by the successful application of the theories i.e. cell phones, quantum computers and the like to convince us of their validity.

The problem is the evidence, although still incomplete, that the world at the smallest levels is driven by random processes not classical cause and effect ones is massive. The conclusions, mystifying. Superposition, things being in multiple places at once, Schroedinger’s cat being both alive and dead, Entanglement a.k.a. “Spooky action at distance” all defy our mammalian brain’s insistence on following the causal chain to a resulting event.

The result is that, for those who bother to think about the larger Philosophical consequences of the random underpinnings of the world as we know it, the response is all over the map. There are the expert deniers like Einstein who never bought in, although a couple of his early works were instrumental in kicking things off, proof of the existence of God, disproof of the existence of God, proof of Eastern Philosophy/Religion, disproof of Eastern Philosophy/Religion and people who say it has nothing to do with anything except in the tiny world of the atom.

The problem is, of course, that in our culture some people are going to try to sell you on ideas and products that claim to be supported by the Physics but that are the the product of what the editors at “New Scientist” magazine call “Fruitloopery.” Using lots of technical jargon and fringe theories to justify you buying into what they are selling.

This raises the stakes for the general public. It increases the need for the general public to have some idea of what is accurate and what does it even mean to be “accurate” when particles can be in multiple places at he same time?

So what did I get out of the book? Well I had and still have a nagging feeling that Einstein might be right. The reason Quantum Mechanics is not ultimately driven by Newtonian cause and effect is that is still incomplete. This book provided more ammunition to the case against Newton and Einstein both on the Physics side and Philosophy side. I also have more ammunition to keep the Fruitloops in the bowl with the milk and not in my Philosophy.

Very much worth the read.

Where did you go Betelgeuse?

I have been going out every night I can to check on Betelgeuse the right shoulder star in Orion the Hunter. Here in southwest Florida it rides high in the winter sky.

For those of you who haven’t be paying attention it has always been identified as one of the stars in our part of the galaxy that could go Supernova. Now it started to dim substantially going from 10th brightest to 21st in the sky.

The chances that I will be the one to first see the astronomical event of the ages is Lottery slim but hey, people do win the lottery.

Stellar Database Project

With all of the incredible new information processing tools out there I decided to build myself a Stellar Database from existing star catalogs and do a little armchair stargazing.

I have re-purposed a little Dell Optiplex Core I7 with 16 gig of ram and lots of disk for the project. I loaded up a copy of MS SQL SERVER 17 Developers version (free for non-production use). It moves along quite crisply.

I loaded up a copy of the Yale Bright Star Catalog as a test bed then found the HYG Catalog ( Hipparcos, Yale, Gliese ) and loaded that. I have just started to do some basic searches and will report out some finding when I can sort them out.

Now the stretch goal, Gaia. Gaia is the European space agency’s mission to explore the Milky Way Galaxy. Launched in 2013 the spacecraft plans to scan its target population of 1.5+ billion stars 70 times over 5 years. In April 2018 ESA released their second set of Gaia data. I downloaded some sample data and am now studying how to integrate it into my environment. It is going to be a challenge. Data on 1.5 billion stars is going to take some storage space.

I promise to post here more often so stop back and check on the progress.