Wednesday, May 31, 2017

--- Learning on a computer ---


Computers are excellent platforms for learning. By its very nature a computer is multimedia and can engage most of the senses in the learning experience (they haven't hooked smell and taste in yet and maybe that's a good thing). Throw in a portable computer in the form of a smartphone or tablet and the learning goes with you.

I  can look up practically anything on the Internet and my digital library is enormous - there are public libraries without the resources I have on my desk.

Before I retired and moved to Denver, I found digital copies of all the books in my large library that I could and digitized audio tapes that I had made. There are a lot of sources on the Internet for digital books. Websites like the Gutenberg project ( and the Internet Archive ( provide access to a breathtaking array of books, software, audio, and video in the public domain. There are booksellers that provide digital versions of more recent works but many embed security code (DRM) in their products so they can only be viewed on their own software - the product, in effect, belongs to them and you buy the ability to see it. The Calibre Ebook management system, a free download, has a function that allows you to search the Internet for books and will alert you to the presence of security code in the books.

Calibre lets you maintain a home digital library and provides a reader for most ebook formats. It has a lot of features. If you want to check it out, the website is: .

Another powerful learning technique is programming. If you can tell a computer how to do something, you really understand it because computers require very exact instructions. I'll be showing you some programming techniques later.

Again, computers can connect you very intimately with the thing you are learning about. When I was first getting into computers, if you wanted to connect a sensor to a computer, you had to build the interface, which was fun, but if you made a mistake, you ruined an expensive computer. Now, you can connect a desktop, laptop, portable, or smartphone computer to all kinds of stuff - thermometers, spectroscopes, telescopes, microscopes, electrocardiograms - the list is endless because it keeps growing.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

--- Attributes: Different angles ---

Most people, I think, see their everyday world as an assemblage of things they can touch - matter. Matter is the things that you can use, eat, and the kind of thing that can hurt you. Humanity grew up attending to the matter around them to survive, create, or fear. Matter has been what most mattered.

So, our brains are hardwired to understand the world as matter.

I have recently watched a lecture series by The Teaching Company entitled "The Higgs Boson and Beyond" presented by the theoretical physicist Sean Carroll. It is a fascinating exploration of what goes on inside the atom and between the stars. I won't say that you will understand particle physics if you watch the series (I didn't); but I will say that you will be much more comfortable with the ideas that particle physicists bandy about.

Early on, Dr. Carroll made the startling statement that matter doesn't exist - it's all energy fields - at least, in the worldview of a modern theoretical physicist. I suspect that would be a disturbing concept to regular folks.

What is an energy field? Well, it's the values that properties of space take at different points. For instance, we used to think that gravity was how hard one object pulled on another object. Einstein said that that was wrong. Gravity is how space bends around massive objects, so that when objects (like a meteor) falls toward another object (like the earth) it is actually sliding down a slope in space. The gravity field, in that case, is the map of the values of curvature in space.

But, according to modern physicists, the reality of the universe isn't matter - it's energy fields. The reason we can't sense energy fields is that they are not the most proximal things that have affected our existence throughout our history. We can't directly perceive the basis of our existence (ayehhhhhhh!).

We have to trust our mathematics to tell us what energy fields are doing. Don't go grab your algebra textbook. You need much more advanced mathematics.

If you've seen my StatFiles on the Timeline or DANSYS, you know that I'm a statistician (at least at the amateur level). Statisticians look at the world through the lens of probability. Actually, modern physicists can use the same spectacles. Ever since the advent of quantum physics, scientists have realized that there is a big dose of uncertainty in reality and it is often more advantageous to say "I don't know where it is exactly, but I know the probability that it's somewhere between here and there."

Again, probability fields are not things that people see directly, but they're there.

Religious people have another way of "seeing" the world. They understand that the world is a world of spirit, some subtle, imperceptible, maybe ineffable substance that pervades the world. I can, perhaps, speak to that from a nonreligious direction, "perhaps" because it is based on a personal experience, not on academic knowledge.

In a sociology class at Auburn University, the instructor made the statement that humans cannot even think of concept like "power", "love", "goodness" - abstract concepts - without the mediation of words. I had noticed that before a word happened in my mind, that there was something that happened just before, so I brought that up to the instructor. Knowing that this professor was unlikely to back down on any of her opinions on the subject of sociology, I was taken aback when she said, "You may be right."

So, I've played around with the concept most of my adult life and I've developed the knack of catching what happens "just before".

My shamanic skills have grown through my adult life and especially when I started associating with other Weres and, being of a scientific bent, I always suspected that the "shamanic realm" was not accurately what could be called "the spirit realm".

I started looking for the "just before" that happened just before something happened during a "spirit quest" and, to my great disorientation, everything went away, but there was something else, and this is where my discourse has to stop because my brain can't fashion a description of it.

I will say two things about it. Since my brain cannot grasp what happened, I am convinced that it could not have been my imagination, because imagination happens in the brain. Further, I think that this is the reality of spirit. The best I can come up with, spirit is the template that underlies what we see as reality.

Many religious people make the assumption (and it is an assumption since I can find no support in any of the sacred works of the world), that spirit is only in persons. In my experience, spirit is everywhere and at the base of everything - it's what the world is made of, or more accurately, what the world is made on.

What separates a shaman from others is that their brains have caught a scent of these other things that are "out there" - not only matter, but energy fields, probability fields, spirit - and their brains try to make the imperceptible perceivable. They have a virtual reality in their heads that allow them to work with "the other stuff".

Everything is matter.
Everything is energy fields.
Everything is probability fields.
Everything is spirit.

Matter, energy, probability, spirit are just different attributes of reality. Seeing the world from different orientations can make more sense in different situations. On the level of the mundane, everyday world, we can get more purchase on the world by seeing it as matter. The physicist has to shift to grasp energy and probability fields. The shaman works with spirit.

Our ecology is a web of power scintillating throughout the universe. We are part of that web, like spiders at the junction of strands. Each strand is a feed of information. Each spider is part of the web and the web is part of each spider.

Everything at the foundation, is information, an eternal flux of changing values.

To see the world in all it's complexity, that is the joy of diversity.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

--- Notes on creation and the material world ---

The man who looks only at himself cannot but sink into despair, yet as soon as he opens his eyes to the creation around him, he will know joy.

Baal Shem-Tov

Some days, I feel that I know very well why the ancient gnostics believed that the material world is evil. Packages won't open right. Clothes bind when you're trying to get out of them and there's no use trying to just drop them into a laundry bag. They seem to intentionally catch on the lip of the bag every way they can. Walking on a hot day, clouds seem to be everywhere except between me and the sun. On a cold day I can't get my pack on because my coat catches on the arm straps.

But then I consider how many different parameters have to be within such narrow limits for this planet to support life - how many parameters have  to be within such narrow limits to support existence. Perhaps I protest too much.

The world is a joy to me. There is just to much beauty and pleasure here for me to feel short changed.

I do have somewhat against modern scientists and their staunch adherence to the doctrine of evolution, though, and it's not religious in nature. As far as my religious beliefs are concerned, what is described in the first chapter of Genesis sound precisely like abiogenesis (the development of life from nonliving environments) and evolution. No, I have no problem with the ideas of evolution and abiogenesis on a religious basis. My problem is purely scientific.

Science is empirically based inquiry and no one was around to observe what happened in the development of the current environment. We can speculate but, as long as there are competing theories that fit, we cannot say that we have the answer.

As it is, I know of no good way to distinguish an environment developed by evolutionary forces and one created by a rational creator. Both would lead to beings that almost precisely fit their environments.

I could forgive the naivete of  scientists a few decades ago pointing to the appendix as evidence that mistakes were made. Now we know that the appendix and the tonsils and other "vestigial" organs do, indeed serve real purposes. But scientists still sing the same tired old songs. "But what about (fill in the blanks)?" They were wrong about tonsils. Just because an organ seems to be vestigial now, doesn't mean that it actually has no purpose. Really, the scientists are the last people we want to "never learn."

Science doesn't tell us what-is. In the final analysis, we can never know what-is. We hope and have good reason to believe that what we "know" is in agreement with what is actually out there, but what we know is our mental models of what is out there. The models work, so we can be content with that. But that's what science gives us - models that work, models that allow us to predict with reasonable accuracy what will happen, and models that allow us to be creative with the materials we have to work with. We may want to go further to plumb the depths of reality - to know the bedrock fundamental of our existence and, when we do find answers - yay!- more power to us - but reification is insidious and we should never lose sight of the fact that what we have really found are models of the bedrock fundamentals of our existence.

--- Computer websites ---


There are several websites that I make considerable use of while I program and do other computer related activities. Here are some of my favorites:

SourceForge: A great repository of opensourceware and freeware. It has pretty much everything you might need to maintain a computer and then some.

Free Statistics: Being a statistician, this one is a predictable favorite. It makes available a wide range of free, demonstration, and shareware programs for just about any statistical need.

Programmer's Heaven is a huge, general source of information for programmers.

Martindale computer resources. The Martindale site is a huge library of just about everything you might want information about. I enjoy just wandering around through the stacks. The address of the computer section is:

Numerical recipes - the companion site to the classical resource for numerical algorithms. I've found a lot of solutions to mind wrenching programming problems here.

The Stony Brook Algorithm Repository has many algorithms for many basic computing tasks.

Jean Pierre Moreau's page is another great repository of mathematical (and a few other) algorithms.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

--- Is smiling contagious? ---

Bear Creek Trail

You may have noticed that yawning is contagious. If you yawn in a crowded room, you'll set off a chain reaction that will have people yawning all over the place. Great fun! Right?

Try it with your dog. I'd bet that you can get him or her to yawn.

Other things also tend to be contagious like coughing or clearing your throat. I was on a crew boat one hot summer day headed out on the Gulf of Mexico toward my work as a welder helper on a pipeline barge. The boat was way over capacity. The air conditioner was overloaded and the sea was choppy. Most of us were seasoned salts and it wasn't too bad until one greenhorn lost his lunch and then it was all over. Everybody had to join in. Sea spray or not, I headed for the door. Vomiting is definitely contagious!

But is smiling contagious? I found this suggestion for a study on the Science Buddies website. This is a website devoted to helping student develop plans for science fair projects, but it's a goldmine of suggestions for amateur scientists and lifelong learners looking for ideas. This particular idea can be found at:

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, October 10). Is Smiling Contagious?. Retrieved May 16, 2017 from

So I headed out for the trail. One direction I would nod at passersby with a neutral expression and record their reactions. On the way back, I would smile and see if they smiled back.

The first leg was tough. I almost always smile at people on the trail. It's pretty much automatic. I only sampled people who were actually using the trail. A 1 indicated a person who made eye contact and who displayed a "growing smile". Many people were smiling when they met me and their smile didn't change, so I only recorded people who smiled on making eye contact or whose smile got bigger. The others got a 0.

The results were that I met 80 people on the first leg of the hike and 20 of them smiled at me. I met 77 people coming back and 48 smiled at me. The proportion of people who smiled at me when I gave them a neutral greeting was 0.25, and the proportion who smiled at me when I smiled at them was 0.62.

I used a z test of two proportions to see if there was a significant difference between the two proportions. The one-tail significance was 1.18x10-6 and the two-tail significance was 2.36x10-6. For a significance of less than 0.01 (which both of these are), I take the results to be significant.

So, it seems that smiles are contagious. But there are other important questions. For instance, is the contagion autonomic (hard wired, like yawns) or social. My observations suggest that returning smiles is mostly social, like the phenomenon of reflected posture. When two people are interacting strongly, they will often adopt mirror images of each other's body posture. I noticed that people I met on both legs of the hike often gave contradictory results. They smiled on the first leg and didn't on the second. It looked like fatigue distracted them. I would guess that an autonomic reaction would have occurred anyway.

I also noted that the returned smile was not a necessary sign of friendliness. Some of the people who did not return my smile nevertheless returned a friendly verbal or nonverbal greeting. That makes me think that the returned smile may be a culturally learned response. There seems to be plenty of fertile ground for amateur researchers to cover if they want to look deeper into the phenomenon of the returned smile.

Rapids on Bear Creek

Saturday, May 20, 2017

--- The Zen of washing dishes ---

This is my ninth life, and last. No, I don't mean reincarnation. I mean, maybe, like a cat. I was a child and student was much different. I've redefined myself in each phase of life so each age seems to be a different life. After graduating from high school, I worked with my family shipping plants from central Florida and I had a few other jobs - again, practically a different person. Then I was a college student, partially and then completely on my own. When I went to work on a pipeline barge, it toughened me and the effects that had were permanent. Luckily, the alcohol wasn't. Graduate school was as much different from undergraduate studies as that was from high school. It toughened me in a different way. Then as a camp counselor, I mellowed out somewhat and learned my last big lessons in compassion. Finally, twenty years of professional life topped it all off.

Now, I'm retired and am a dishwasher. I don't say that disparagingly, there are many great things about washing dishes. I wash dishes for people I love - a family. That's good. It's sorta bad on the back, but not washing dishes, or something like that is much worse on my back. It's just about the right amount of exercise to keep the scaffolding upright.

Dishwashing is sorta Zen. It's a simple job that you can develop into a rhythm and you can make it as deep or as shallow as you wish. Once you get the rhythm going, it's practically meditation.

Or it's strategy. The sink is for washing and the machine is for sanitizing. I agree with Levi's grandmother. It takes some strategy to have the dishes moving so the crusty dishes get to soak while you're washing the others and if you don't pack them in just right, they won't all fit. And if you don't pack them in just right, getting them out is chaos. "Just right" saves time and effort when you unload. Dishwashing is an exercise in problem solving if you do it right.

Schools are expected to teach problem solving in Colorado. I know because I tutored for awhile and I became intimately knowledgeable with the standards. Unfortunately, they are required to teach math problem solving. The good things is that mathematics problem solving methods will generalize quite well into all phases of life. Unfortunately, most people need a little instruction about how to generalize the problem solving skills they learned in mathematics classes.

What's more important - knowing how to solve mathematical problems requiring mathematical induction, or how to solve the kind of problems that place neighbors at odds if they aren't resolved? How about knowing how to figure out why that light went out? How about home finances - well, that's mathematics, sorta, but it also deals with distinguishing between needs and wants and setting priorities. There's a lot of nonmathematics there.

Perhaps there should be a class set aside for problem solving skills - just problem solving skills. That should definitely be in the standards.

There are several classical problem solving strategies used in solving technical problems and I've found them just as useful in my daily life. Here are a few, probably the main ones.

Evaluate the problem: Any problem needs preliminary thought. The first question is, "Is there really a problem?" Brief thought can often show what looks to be a problem to be something you already know how to deal with. The other two questions that need to be clarified are, "What am I trying to accomplish?" and "How do I make it happen." In programming, that takes the form of drawing what the output of a program should look like and then determining what a program has to do do make the information that will be fed it turn into that end result. The first time I walked to Morrison, my "starting state" was where I lived and my goal was Morrison.

Add things to the problem that might get you to the goal: If you've ever had a course in geometry, you probably have had the experience of adding a line to a diagram and suddenly seeing the whole solution. I'm planning some excursions to Boulder to look around the college campus there. The problem is that a bus trip from south Denver will take all day and I won't have time to do anything once I get there. What I have added to the diagram is the fact that one of my housemates works in nearby Flatirons Junction and that there is a bus that makes a short run from there to the campus. I can go to work with him, take the bus to Boulder, and have most of the day to wander around town.

Hill climbing: There's plenty of that on the trails around here. In problem solving theory, hill climbing happens when you find a formula that tells you how near the goal you are, and you use that as a guide. As the value of the formula increases (or decreases) you feel that you're getting closer to the goal. The formula for my first trip to Morrison was simple: Move=west. If you go west on Bear Creek Trail, you'll eventually end up in Morrison. Conversely, if I walk east on Bear Creek Trail from Morrison, I will eventually end up down the hill from my house (or, if I go too far down the trail, I'll end up at River Point shopping area. This method takes a little finesse.) That doesn't work so well when walking from Mineral Station to Waterton Canyon. Unfortunately, there is a complex network of trails between that all look like they will get you there, but some carry you miles out of the way. I decided to ask a man with a dog.

One of the advantages of walking around here is that you can often see where you're going. I can see Morrison from my front porch and I can see Bear Creek Canyon, in which Morrison sits, at several points along the way, so I have ample opportunities to evaluate my progress. When walking to Waterton Canyon, I can see that big notch in the mountains from many miles away. I can see it from up the hill from my house. In fact, you can see it in the second panel of the panorama at the top of this blog, almost to the right edge. It's that little bitty notch. It's much bigger as you get closer.

Break a big problem into smaller problems:  That brings me back to dishwashing. There are occasions that cause me to end up with stacks and stacks of dishes - one of the eight others I live with decided to clean out the refrigerator, somebody brings a stack of plates that have collected in their room to the sink, we have guests or a party. I would get quite despondent except that I know that the pile of dishes are made up of individual dishes and no one dish is a problem. If I just put each one in the dish washer, I can only deal with one load at a time, and then I'm done with dishes until that load is done. Washing one dish at a time is a lot easier than washing a mountain of dishes even though they are the same problem.

My hikes get broken into smaller hikes also. Walking to Morrison involves walking up Bear Creek Greenway to Wadsworth, then walking through the big open space on the other side of Wadsworth, then there are three underpasses in quick succession, then I have to get around two golf courses, over Mount Carbon, and through Bear Creek Lakes Park. Then I'm in Morrison! They're all different, simpler problems that add up to the entire hike.

Working backward: How would the problem look if it were already solved? Play the movie backwards to the present and what would it look like? Walking to Morrison is a lot easier than walking back because the trail merges into other trails going west, but going east, it tends to split off into trails that look very similar and they're not always marked. The Waterton trip is the opposite. It's hard to get lost coming back but the trail from Mineral Stations splits apart like a clump of spaghetti. It takes a few trips to get the hang of it but, if you make the trip once, you may be able to visualize what the trail does coming back the other way.

If you're a visual thinker, this is a powerful strategy. Let's say that you want to design and build a chair. The usual way people go about it is to think of the materials they're going to get and visualize how those materials will go together to form the chair they want.

Try this instead. Visualize the chair you want and imagine yourself disassembling it. How do the pieces fit together? Are the connections sturdy and, if not, could they be made sturdier? When you have the chair disassembled, what pieces are you left with? That's your starting point, the way to build it, and the end product.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

--- Notes on happiness ---

A string of excited, fugitive, miscellaneous pleasures is not happiness; happiness resides in imaginative reflection and judgment, when the picture of one's life, or of human life, as it truly has been or is, satisfies the will, and is gladly accepted.

George Santayana

This sounds much like contentment to me but I can't think of a better description of happiness than when a person is content with their past.

I have a personal maxim: I should act so as to keep the number of regrets to a minimum at the end of my life. A near  corollary would be: If I make a mistake, I should fix it as soon as possible. I find that mistakes have expiration dates. If you wait too long, you simply cannot fix many errors. You might be able to ameliorate the consequences to some extent but never completely. And consequences are the problems.

Consequences are inevitable sequels to any action and they never stop. The classical idea of karma is that any action sends out ripples like a pebble dropped into water. A problem with this analogy is that ripples stop eventually, consequences never stop.

You want to maximize the good consequences (whatever "good" means here.)

A good test of the quality of actions - Coyote often says, "How does that work for you?" Yeah, I know that was a Dr. Phil saying, but it sounds better coming from Coyote. The idea is that, if you keep doing something and the consequences make you unhappy, stop doing it!

Again, the problem, as with so many philosophical categories, is that "happiness" is, at the final analysis, a word and, as such, is open to definition. I guess you can define happiness as "a warm puppy" but I'm thinking that what most people mean when they say "happiness" boils down to Santayana's version of happiness.

--- Computer Bookshelf ---


First, if you get new software, download the documentation for it, especially the user guide and tutorials. If the home site for the software doesn't have tutorials, search on the web for the software's name plus "tutorial". In my experience, the best way to learn how to use a program is to play with it, but it helps to have some guided examples to run through.

Here are some other books I like:

Musciano, Chuck (1988) HTML: The Definitive Guide, 3rd edition. O'Reilly and Associates. Actually, the definitive guide, and you know you're going to want to spruce up a webpage one day.

Verschuuren, Gerard (2008) Excel 2007 for Scientists and Engineers. Holy Macro! Books, Uniontown, OH. It's for Excel users, but most of it is also applicable for general spreadsheet use, and you know how much I like spreadsheets. (2013) Basic Computing Using Windows. Ditto the other Wikibook, and this one can be downloaded at: (2013) Computers for Beginners. This wikibook, from Wikipedia, is  a good guide for people who have never used a computer before and it can be downloaded for free at:

Sunday, May 14, 2017

It's one of those things that alternately amuses and disgusts me. Most of the historical thinkers of the world have fairly consistently assumed that humanity is the pinnacle of creation in all ways. Aristotle distinguished humanity as the rational animal (implying that other animals are not rational). Descartes described nonhumans as automatons. Skinner carried the idea further by saying that, not only were nonhumans automatons, but even humans responded to the environment in simple and mechanical ways. Since the inception of experimental science in the 16th century until the 20th century, it seems that no one ever thought to question the assumption. Still, even scientists are divided on how nonhumans compare with humans in their ability to think, reason, emote, feel, or fear.

Of course, I'm talking about the academic world. People who spend enough time with nonhumans to observe them find it difficult to see them as unthinking, unfeeling automatons.

But I guess it's comforting to think that your own species excels all others in every way. That would add to the list of isms - we call it "speciesism" and the rising movement of antispeciesism is the reactionary movement. I'm not sure whether it is a bigger surprise that thinking persons took so long to question the assumption, or that anybody ever thought of questioning it at all.

I guess the biggest blow came when scientists found that prairie dogs could communicate complex messages using a vocal language (Conn Slobodchkoff, William Briggs, Patricia Dennis. (May 2009) "Decoding the information contained in the alarm calls of Gunnison prairie dogs". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 125(4):2739). Aye. Prairie dogs talk to each other. They tell each other to watch out for that thing moving around, what it is (if they know, otherwise, that they don't know), whether anyone should be afraid of it, and so on.

Crows develop grudges against humans that do bad things to them and they make sure that all the other crows in the area know all about it. For more on the languages of smart birds see John Marzluff's and Tony Angell's Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans.

Anyway, I decided to walk to Mount Carbon and see how human and nonhuman companions connect. I expected the observations to be difficult. It's not always easy to see if two people are connecting - if they are being aware of their companion, and if they are not connecting now, does that mean that they never connect? Dogs, and all my subjects were human-dog couples (I didn't see any horses or other nonhuman companions, nor did I spot any birdwatchers watching birds this time.) often look like they are not paying any attention at all to their human companions, except that they are pacing their companion quite precisely. And even if couples usually connect, they might not if, for instance, they are juveniles or if they are distracted by a conversation.

And it was no surprise that I got no meaningful data. But I did count the dog traffic on the approximately five miles between Bear Creek Valley Shopping Center and Mount Carbon over about seven hours and the number was 42.

Most of the homes in this area have human and nonhuman occupants.

People here like their animal companions and, just watching them, it's quite obvious that humans and nonhumans do connect. They "talk" to each other, hike and play together, make eye contact often and, if you ask them, most will tell you that they "know" what each other "means". Of course, if you ask the dogs, horses, prairie dogs, or crows, you're going to have to understand their language to know what they answer.

A pretty flower I spotted on Mount Carbon - I think it's a California Poppy.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

--- Computer equipment ---


I'm a packrat when it comes to collecting equipment for my lab. I look for inexpensive but reliable sources, both online and in my  neighborhood and travels. For instance, I can easily walk to several local WalMarts, a Home Depot, or The Science Company.

I've acquired a nice array of small accessories for both my computer and my smartphone. Here are a few items.

My computer equipment is kept in two computer bags.

My Dell N5040 laptop. I've had it for years and have no desire to replace it.

A couple of gigabyte flash drives is necessary because I'm always passing files to people when I carry my laptop out.

A few extra recordable CD's for the same reason.

A USB hub. That gives me four USB ports off one of the two on my laptop.

A dust brush to clean off the display.

A CD drive cleaner, because it tends to need it at the most inopportune times.

And, of course, all those cables, half of which I have no idea why they're still there.

The other computer case has the interesting stuff in it.

Trackball. I'm used to a mouse and would probably never switch to a trackball, but it comes in handy when you're doing psychological experiments dealing with coordination and such.

2 extra webcams. There's one built into the laptop, but it's nice to be able to switch between viewpoints and these tiny webcams are much easier to point at things.

A USB thermometer sensor.

A lamp that can be plugged into the computer's USB port. Those things are amazingly useful to be so simple.

My sensor hub is a Sinometer VA18B multimeter. It has all the cables including a USB link that will connect to my laptop. I can measure just about anything that I might want to measure with that, and the software allows me to either display a instantaneous value or track measurements over time as a graph or table of values.

(Note: Over time, the multimeter has stopped working with my computer and I have switched to a Dataq DI-145 data logger. For the price - much less than $100 - it does a great job.)

If I want to keep track of faster changing quantities, I have a Sainsmart computer oscilloscope in my bag.

A portable Adesso EZScan 2000 document scanner. Once I got used to feeding pages into it, operation has been pretty much flawless.

Intuos drawing tablet with the pen. It works very nicely as a computer blackboard.

The smartphone equipment is kept in a waist pack.

Very good smartphone cases are very inexpensive. Mine is a three piece LK case that has a silicon shock absorbing inner shell (which is important since I drop my phone from heights as parts of physics demonstrations), a hard outer case, and a cover that all that slides into. The cover and hard case has easel stands that slide out and the cover has a belt clip.

I also have an armband mount that keeps the phone where I can get to it - on my arm. Since I use it as a field instrument, that is one of the best purchases I've made for my phone.

The waist pack carries a couple of flashlights (one red, for night vision).

A clip on microscope lens with LED light. I got it from American Science and Surplus and they're right - it has no business working as well as it does. It gives me up to 30X, and that's about perfect for most field work.

A Carson 6X telephoto lens that has a clip on phone mount. I find smartphone telephoto lenses hard to aim, but once you have the target in sight, they're fantastic. One thing is certain - a tripod is necessary. I have a table tripod in the pack. If I need a full size camera tripod, I have a Bower professional rig I can sling over my shoulder (the carrying bag has a shoulder strap). It's not heavy but tends to swing in all the wrong directions.

I also keep a lens cloth in the pack.

A Edmund Scientific pen microscope/telescope (remember those? Mine still works fine and they still sell them).

A laser pointer.

A tape measure/minidriver tool set I picked up at a conference somewhere.

A tripod clamp mount that allows me to clamp a variety of things to my tripods.

And I have an iStabilizer smartphone tripod mount that has standard size tripod sockets on two sides. With the 1/4" x 20 threads per inch hardware I keep with me, I can mount my smartphone to just about anything. The mount will even clamp onto my Arduino microcomputer.

--- Notes on time ---

Time is the number of motion with respect to earlier and later.... Not only do we measure the movement by the time, but also the time by the movement, because they define each other. The time marks the movement, since it is number, and the movement the time.


Well, that was Aristotle's conception of time and it is mine - at least my naive conception. That's the time that's in our heads by which we measure our world, but there is also an element in the world, regardless of what we think, or, even, whether we are.

The environment the human mind developed in was shaped in certain ways by certain forces. These, in turn, shaped the human mind. Causal chains are important to survival, so we have been trained over eons to pay attention to causal chains; therefore, time runs in one direction - forward along causality.

What would happen if time ran backward? Things would undo, including our perceptions, and as soon as it ran forward again, it would "redo" and we could never know that time ever ran in any direction but forward.

Physics calls entropy "the arrow of time" because things run from high usable energy states to states in which all the usable energy is used up. But that's not quite right because there are systems that make entropy go in reverse - that increases usable energy in the environment, albeit only temporarily, and we don't see this reversed entropy as time-running-backward. Neither does time run backward in Einstein's world of four dimensions when entropy is reversed.

Currently, unless we cross some barrier that can carry us beyond what we are wired to perceive/conceive the only way to grasp the element of time that is independent of our sense and of us is to trust the mathematics that tells us that there is something out there that we can't grasp but must be there because, otherwise, nothing would work right.

More and more, physics looks strangely like philosophy.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

--- Acquaintances and clustering ---

People tend to look for patterns in nature, even when the patterns aren't there, but some patterns actually are there, and for a variety of reasons.

You probably have heard that traffic tends to bunch up on highways and that has to do with traffic flow dynamics. I would be very surprised if there were not a social component there too - a feeling of safety in numbers. I would not think so if my roommate in college were not quite so into trucker culture and CB ("Citizen Band radio" for those of you that do not remember it). Truckers would form "convoys" of trucks and the ones on the inside were said to be "in the rocking chair" because they did not usually have to worry about being stopped for speeding - the trucks on the leading and trailing ends would be the ones to be puller over. So, clustering and shifting positions reduce the chances of being noticed by the police.

About three years after I moved to South Denver, I began meeting people in my neighborhood and on the trails. It was like a switch flipped. Before then I hardly knew anyone and, suddenly, I was meeting people. I don't know how it happened but I would suspect that it took that long for people to see me enough times to feel like I looked familiar. I became a fixture in the community and people felt okay about approaching me and introducing themselves.

Does foot traffic cluster on Bear Creek Trail?

I strapped my camp chair to my backpack and strapped my backpack to my shoulder and started out at 8:30 Saturday morning, 5/6/17, to the library, where they were holding a couple of video sets for me. Then I tracked down to Bear Creek Park and set up in the shade of a big fur tree. There was a big cottonwood tree that I spent the first half hour sketching, and then I called my long-time friend and hiking companion, Paul, and talked with him the rest of the two hours. Otherwise, I counted foot and bicycle traffic on Bear Creek Trail from 9:30 to 11:30.

266 walkers and bicyclists passed by me in 195 groups. There were 145 people that were not in groups. With the other 121 in groups, there doesn't seem to be a predominance of groups, the larger the groups, the fewer groups that size. Here is a crosstabulation of walkers and bikers vs. different sized groups.

The large p-value (0.92) indicates that there is very likely no real difference in preference for traveling as an individual or in groups between bikers (B) or pedestrians (R). There were three large groups (more than four people in a group) of bikers but none of walkers. That's not very significant in a sample of 266 people. I've run into large groups of walkers - this time, I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If you look at the sizes of groups over the two hours, couples appear fairly consistent. Larger groups appear early and late. I would imagine that the bike groups would start early to allow for more distance, and also to take advantage of cooler temperatures. Still, there isn't enough instances to tell if the pattern shown here is typical.

The number of trail users in each fifteen minutes is pretty consistent, which seems to indicate that trail users do not necessarily prefer the cooler morning hours over the warmer hours.

It had climbed from 60 degrees to over 70 and the park smelled distinctly herbal as I pulled my setup together, packed it onto my back, and left for home.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

--- Computer software ---


There are a few software packages that I like and a few sites that also make me happy and entertain me. I've already talked about a few in the article, "Open Source and Freeware." Here are a few more.

I have a soft spot (somewhere in my head, I'm sure.) for the old fashion Windows Help files and you can still compose your own with ShalomHelp. But you'll have a hard time connecting your help files to anything. Just use ShalomHelp to read them. Anyway, ShalomHelp is available at several download sites such as Softonic ( Be careful with these download sites. Some are not monitored very well and you are liable to pick up something you don't want. Also, many of them try to sneak in some extra software with the one you're downloading so be sure and read the information on the installers carefully.

Except for "riders" (those extra programs that get snuck in), I've never had any problems with Softonic, Tucows, or CNET. That doesn't mean they never have corrupted software - it just means I've never had a problem with them.

Python is my current favorite non-LibreOffice Basic programming language. It's both fun and powerful, which is why it's also popular. It gives you constant feedback while you compose. If you type in 5+7, it will immediately return 12. The caveat is that older versions of Python are not necessarily compatible with current versions so, if you're going to use a textbook or user guide to learn Python, make sure the text goes with the version of Python that you have. Here's their site:

Since I'm a statistician, Free Statistics would reasonably be one of my favorite software venues. This site offers a lot of surprisingly powerful free, open source, and limited edition statistics software at:

--- Notes on beauty ---

Beauty is pleasure regarded as the quality of a thing.... Beauty is a value, that is, it is not a perception of a matter of fact or of a relation: it is an emotion, an affection of our volitional and appreciative nature. An object cannot be beautiful if it can give pleasure to nobody....

George Santayana

This might be a surprise given some of the violently ugly works of art that exists. Consider Goya's "Saturn Devouring His Son", Munch's "The Scream", and Robert Mapplethorpe's "The Perfect Moment".

Certainly, in nature, beauty is a "something about" something that makes people (in general) feel good. A colorful sunset, a craggy mountain, the deep, blue sea - these things strike a chord in just about everyone that gives them pleasure.

What about Goya's "The Third of May 1808", the depiction of a horrific firing squad. Usually, people who like this painting understand certain things about the painter and the his times. The painting doesn't directly inspire pleasure in the viewer but something more like agreement, sympathy, or solidarity, and it feels good to be a part of a group bound by agreement. Works of art, unlike nature, can be beautiful for reasons much divorced from direct pleasure.

People can feel pleasure for many reasons, including some quite warped reasons (read Eric Berne's "The Games People Play" for a pleasurable and often quite uncomfortable exploration of many of those reasons), and art can play to all of them.

People who do not approach art from the position of appreciation, or immersing themselves in the piece, its background, and its creator, often wonder what the big deal is for something like Van Gogh's "Starry, Starry Night." Deeper understanding allows a work of art to come alive and display surprising beauty.

In the same way, a mathematician talks about the beauty of an elegant and creative theory, a programmer talks about the beauty of an efficient line of code, or an ecologist may talk about the beauty of a valuable scavenger like a vulture. Part of what they mean is the esteem they have for something that fits so well, but I suspect that they have also caught a feeling, a scent, of the lines, the rhythms, the certain of the thing.