Thursday, February 15, 2018

Pause. Rant.

Both my work and home emails now have "pause" buttons.  Sadly, the pause doesn't have an autoreply, but if it did, it might say this:

Dear email correspondent, 
Michelle is not responding to this email because her task queue is overfull of items due RIGHT NOW. Or in some cases LAST WEEK!   
If you have a task that is not due RIGHT NOW or LAST WEEK, please do not try to insert it into Michelle's queue. The queue manager (or Michelle) could collapse without warning. 
If you are trying to offload a task you'd rather not do, but in fact have the bandwidth to undertake, this message will be sent to the Purgatory folder.  Michelle promises to pray for the tasks in there, but because time runs differently in purgatory, I can't say that she will get to anything in there any time soon.   
If this is actually a request to Google's servers for information in an email wrapper, please be advised that you can now undertake your own search at  Bonus, you will get to see the Google doodle of the day. 
If you are Michelle, and looking for a time before 2 pm to eat lunch or to go to the bathroom, good luck with that.  Next time, get it on your calendar early in the week. 
With best regards,
Michelle's email queue and calendaring app

And the trouble with the pause button, of course, is that when you release it, you get a flood.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Mystery of science in the sacred

In my last post I noted there are two Catholic scientists who are honored in virtually every Catholic church in the United States.  And for that matter, many other worship spaces across the world.

Who are they?  Not Galileo.  Or Luke, the physician.  You aren't likely to find them in the stained glass windows, and you might have to open a cupboard or a drawer to find them.

One French, one Italian. Both men. Working at the turn of the 18th century to the 19th.  A mathematician turned physicist and a chemist.

Ready for the answer?

Andre-Marie Ampère and Alessandro Volta.  Both have units named after them, to honor their work, the ampere (amp) and the volt respectively.  Both these memorials are in evidence on the power supply shown in the first photo, e.g. 12V, 12 volts; 2.5A, 2.5 amperes.  Photo taken in the sacristy at my parish!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Talking Catholic Scientists

What do Catholic scientists talk about?  Well, I spent the last several days in Washington DC at the studios of Now You Know Media, recording a dozen conversations about the lives and faith of Catholic Scientists with my boss at the Vatican Observatory, Br. Guy.  I’ve been working on material for this series on the lives of Catholic Scientists since September: “spend an hour working on the Catholic Scientists project” has been a regularly scheduled item on my to-do list, an often welcome respite from grading and administrative tasks.

Since there are literally hundreds of scientists who are Catholic and who made significant contributions to their fields (check out the @catholiclab Twitter stream with daily tweets about Catholic scientists), it was both easy and difficult to come up with a set of interesting people to talk about. And once you realize there is no way you can do justice to the history of science over the last 1000 years even if we spent all 12 episodes on it, you’re free to pick a thread for a setting.

We ended up talking about 40 some odd scientists, who lived over a thousand year period on 5 different continents, all Catholic:

11 women
2 saints (and a “Servant of God”)
2 doctors of the Church
2 popes
11 Jesuits
1 Augustinian
4 mathematicians
9 chemists
8 botanists

Fun question:  There are two Catholic scientists that are honored in virtually every church in the US.  Neither of them are saints. Who are they? [[Update:  Answer is here.]]

Our big point?  Catholics have been, are, and will continue to be scientists.  Not in spite of the Church, not separate from their faith, but because of their faith.  It’s a delightful and joyful way to seek the face of God, to play not just with creation, but with the Creator — to pray.  And all these scientists are people, just like the rest of us, with their faults and failings as well as their strengths.

The project has been a delight so far, from doing the research and writing the biographical sketches and brief settings we worked from to finding our rhythm during the recording sessions.  The give and take of a conversation takes a different type of preparation than a straight lecture.  And I suspect for both the scientists in this conversation, working without visuals was another sort of challenge.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Living water, live water

How do you like your water?  How about live? A California company is marketing incredibly expensive "live water."  This $70 per gallon water comes from a spring and hasn't been 'killed' by removing the minerals or bacteria in it, one must trust that there are only beneficial bacteria in it.  The science on the site makes my eyes cross, and the Washington Post's Lindsey Bever does a excellent job of sorting through some of the issues. (Full disclosure, I'm quoted in the article.)

But what I found truly stunning was the comment at the end by a high profile Silicon Valley guy about drinking this kind of water, “The pundits will say water is H2O, but I think as you break it down, there's a lot more to it. And I feel very vibrant on its consumption.”

In his encyclical Laudato Si', Pope Francis devotes an entire section to water, noting how the lack of clean drinking water particularly affects the poor, resulting every day in many deaths and about the commodification of this precious liquid.[29-30]  WHO data shows more than a thousand children under the age of 5 die each day from illness caused by drinking water contaminated with microorganisms. Every day, a thousand little ones, a half million children a year. I doubt their parents are feeling "very vibrant" on the consumption of water that hasn't been treated.  Or that the people still lacking water in Puerto Rico are very happy either.

You want to buy incredibly expensive water, 7000 times as expensive as water from the tap, with a wacky pseudoscientific backstory, fine. But to somehow imply that clean water isn't desirable seems to disparage the very real needs of millions of people in the world for water they can drink, for living water.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Run along and bake cookies...sweetie

In a video piece offering Hillary Clinton some New Year's resolutions, Vanity Fair suggested Hillary Clinton take up some new hobbies in 2018, such as knitting.  Beyond the sort of sexist undertones to taking up knitting, I'm really bothered that most of the digs are aimed at distracting her from running again.  But she has made it quite clear that she will not ever run for office again, why can't we take her at her word?  Does "no" still not mean "no" in 2017?

I'm sympathetic, having recently been told to wander off and bake cookies now that I'd been schooled about God and science.  Like I was some doltish child who had dared to interrupt the adult conversation.

The suggestion that women take up some domestic activity, such as knitting or cookie baking, has long been a proxy for get out of the conversation and leave the field to the (obviously more qualified) men in the room.

Last month I got tangled in a Twitter exchange about God and science.  I was responding because a friend had pointed out a tweet stating that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle proved the existence of God. For obvious reasons he thought I might be the right person to shed some light on this notion.

The characters involved were fabulous: a self-aggrandizing anti-evolutionist with a superficial knowledge of science whose favorite epithet is "sweetie," an ingenuous evangelical woman, someone who invokes Luther as a source but thinks Thomas Aquinas is likely fictional, an atheist or two, and a pantheon of baffled scientists.  C.S. Lewis could have a field day with this crowd.

The conversation was definitely illuminating, though not quite in the way my friend intended.  There was no intellectual engagement as all, the style of debate runs to  don't you know anything about science and flat assertions: you are delusional if you believe in evolution. Because. The scientists are baffled because observations and experiments are dismissed as nonsensical. From this perspective it is not fodder for Lewis or his ilk at all, because there is no content, no actual arguments to lay out.

Best lines...

Ingenuous evangelical: "Are you Christian?"  Yep. [In retrospect, I wonder if she is a bot. I scrolled through the tweets to find lots of odd repeats.]
Scientist:  "Dude, she's a chemist."
Other scientist: "Are you trying to intimidate a Vatican Scientist?" [For the record, not in the least intimidated. Amused, saddened, but not intimidated.]
Onlooker: [in response to a comment I made that the statement of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle provided was a simplified version] But what is it then?  [Someone told him to Google it, but if you don't know some quantum, that's really not going to help.]


I still don't know what the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle has to do with the theory of evolution, and the responses by the original poster was....hardly illuminating. The first one was "because it means things are uncertain."  Yeah.  The final swipe was this:
"actually it proves the theory of evolution cis [sic] not falsifiable, and the simple claim that ToE is unfalsifiable according to the problem of demarcation, proves it is a pseudo science."