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Since I Never Get the Last Word


Monday, December 4, 2006
Question #4 + 100 Years

Came across another interesting source of story ideas last night whilst perusing E=MC2 The Great Ideas That Shaped Our World by Pete Moore, a tome I found shopping the bargain books bin at our local store. Its copyright is 2002 so it doesn’t take long for great ideas to go the way of all fame and grandeur. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has a song about being in the business for 20 years that addresses precisely this problem of going from the top of the charts to the bargain bins in less time than it takes to write this sentence.

Anyway, in this book I discovered David Hilbert who I probably should have come across long before this. My memory being what it is, maybe I did. What got me about Mr. Hilbert was this sentence: “Speaking in Paris in 1900, Hilbert caused a stir by presenting 23 mathematical problems, some of which are yet to be solved more than a hundred yers later.” Curiosity sent me to look at these problems. After doing so, I am here to exhort all you great minds out there to drop everything else and get to work on #4. What Hilbert actually said – albeit translated from the original German – was: The theorem of the straight line as the shortest distance between two points and the essentially equivalent theorem of Euclid about the sides of a triangle, play an important part not only in number theory but also in the theory of surfaces and in the calculus of variations. For this reason, and because I believe that the thorough investigation of the conditions for the validity of this theorem will throw a new light upon the idea of distance, as well as upon other elementary ideas, e. g., upon the idea of the plane, and the possibility of its definition by means of the idea of the straight line, the construction and systematic treatment of the geometries here possible seem to me desirable.”

Or, in my words, number 4 asks if there could be a geometry where the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line?

Solve #4 and, I’m betting, we solve faster-than-light travel.

What’s more important than that?

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-12-04 16:29:28


Thursday, November 30, 2006
Why You Won't See Me in a Gentlemen's Quarterly Ad

Every now and then one of the health care professionals will observe that there are actions one can take to improve one’s health and life expectancy. There are no guarantees in this matter but there seems to be a consensus among the HCPs, at least, that proper diet and exercise are good for people. Underlying this HCP wisdom seems to be an assumption that there must be and is a proper correlation between diet and exercise and living forever; that if we could get it precisely correct, why we’d never die. If you ask them what will happen if you follow all their advice – for example, will you live forever? – they will immediately acknowledge that no one can live forever but, perhaps, if one eats correctly and exercises properly, they will live longer.

Longer than what? Longer than who?

I heard a comment the other day that the trouble with being an eternal is the boredom that must certainly set in. I’m not absolutely convinced this would happen but it does strike me as a possibility.

However, this blog is not a foreshadowing of any suicidal tendencies on my part. Nope, this blog is an identification of the fact that I have determined for myself what the HCPs can and cannot do for me. And, when one of them confronts with me my obvious failure-to-follow-instructions, I simply smile politely and go about my business.

For example, I understand the value of exercise for my already repaired heart so I am willing to forego an hour out of some my days to work out on the cardio machines. However, when they advise me I should be doing a certain amount of strength training, specifically with a nautilus type machine, it’s time to smile and move on.

After all, I already have the physique of a god: the Buddha.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-11-30 09:09:18


Wednesday, November 29, 2006
People and Kilometers Squared

Suppose you subtracted Antarctica from the numbers, then you’ had 134,344,000 square kilometers of land mass on good ole Earth. Of that,33% lies in Asia (which in this accounting includes the Middle East). Europe has 7% and North America 14%.

Suppose you counted up all the people in the world and wrote it down real fast before it changed again – which it did while you were writing it down – then you’d guesstimate that there are damned near 6.4 billion people living on the planet. That means that each of us has pretty close to 6,399,499,999 neighbors. And I don’t know hardly any of them.

Sticking with the numbers game, in Asia (yes, still including the Middle East), 60% of the world’s population lives on 33% of the world’s land mass. That’s 9 people per square kilometer. In Europe, 11% of the world’s population lives on that 7% of the total land mass for 7.6 people/sq km, and in North America 8% of the total population lives on that 14% of the land mass. That’s 20 people per sq km.

However, before we get all huffy about how North America is not doing it’s fair share, consider Australia/Oceania where a mere ½ of 1% of the world’s population is living on 6% of the world’s total land mass for almost 4.2 people/sq km.

Oh yeah, the final really scary numbers. The proportion of the world’s population living in cities rose from 29% in 1950 to 47% in 1998 and is projected to rise to 55% by the year 2015. This is a number I truly do not understand. I’ve tried living in a city and it just doesn’t make any sense to me. I’ll stick to my desert hideaway.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-11-29 19:20:36


Monday, November 20, 2006
Life’s Little Mysteries – The Leonids and the RPI

This one comes under the heading of too lazy to study enough to determine the answer but, as a Charter Member of the RPI, it concerns me. One of the criteria for planethood is the ability to sweep your orbit clean of junk and the Leonids are as close to junk as anything you’re going to find in our planet’s orbit, unless you count all the debris from the space program.

Consider this chart from a 2002 article by Robert Roy Britt on the www.space.com website:

http://www.space.com/images/dust_plot_0211_02.gif

Here’s the mystery:

(1) The article points out the Leonids are the debris from the Tempel-Tuttle comet <with that hyphenated name the comet sounds like the product of a modern marriage, doesn’t it>. Okay, question #1: the comet is moving, obviously, at a considerable rate of speed. The debris gets ripped off by solar radiation but it still ought to retain some of the comet’s velocity, oughtn’t it? Oughtn’t that retained velocity cause it to contiue to move towards the sun or awy from the sun for a time on the escape route? But, no, it seems to settle in an orbit and hang there for eternity waiting for earth’s orbit to finally intercept it.

(2) Okay, next mystery, here comes big old earth lumbering through with enough mass to hold its own moon in sway but can it disrupt the orbit of the mighty Leonids? According to the chart, nope, not a bit. They just hang together in their neat little orbit waiting till earth orbit manages to precisely intereset their orbit. My goodness, the 1800 trip litter is still there even though 2002 would have taken out 1767 and 1866. What about Newton’s Law of gravity which ought to apply in this two body situation?

Us Charter Members – well, I may be the only Charter Member – of the Restore Pluto Initiative demand the IAU consider this evidence. If earth can be a planet and not be able to clear its orbit of all this comet litter – Tempel-Tuttle isn’t the only comet littering the place – then either demote earth to dwarf planet or restore Pluto. Harrrummph! The RPI has spoken!

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-11-20 08:23:31


Thursday, November 16, 2006
Jones Made Me Do It

“IMAGE. A statue of a GODDESS OR GOD, only here – unlike the case with an IDOL – the deity is said to be GOOD. There will be Rites but not SACRIFICES.” Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to FANTASYLAND, Firebird, 1996

The reason my religion has images while your religion has idols is that my religion is good and yours is not. The very easy proof that this is so: my religion’s images celebrate the human form, with or absent clothing. We politely do not contemplate these images at length fearing such a lack of moderation might result in immoderate behavior. In fact, we are taught that our prayerful contemplation of these images should never last longer than seven seconds for men and seventeen seconds for women.

The Rites of my religion aremodeled on the benefits of gardeningcentering on the pruning of young flowers while the SACRIFICES of your religion involve turning virgins, usually and preferably female, from their current state.

My religion has images to enable otherwise dull minds to envision heaven; yours has idols to enable envisioning hell. When your religion lacks idols, your adherents get all confused between the two concepts making heaven more hellish than it should be or hell a bit more attractive than your god intended. We avoid this problem with great and beautiful murals depicting both sides of the equation.

Now, don’t you wish you were a member of my religion?

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-11-16 10:02:12


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