Friday, October 24, 2014

Observations on Gun Control

I suppose the invention of the gun was heralded as a wonder.  I am not going to research the history.  I do know that the gun was useful for hunting and then was found to be used in war and for self protection in general.  But, somewhere along the way I think we got confused and never really put a cap on the use.

The atomic bomb was heralded for ending World War II, and we went through the Cold War, building up stockpiles of bombs.  Finally, with some sanity we realized that the use of nuclear bombs we would annihilate everyone and we started down the path of strategic arms limitation.

I'm watching the TV right now and seeing the story on the news about the killing today of a High School student in the State of Washington by another student with a gun in the cafeteria.  I flashed back to the terrible day a little over a year ago when all those innocent children in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut suffered the death of well over 20 young children. And then I flashed to all the other massacres that have occurred by teens in recent years.

I watch the aftermath of these terrible events: the 2nd Amendment fanatics and the NRA rally for no controls on the use of guns. I think that the logic is that because the Constitution says something about the right to bear arms, any citizen, no matter how crazy or violent, or no matter how many crimes they have already committed, should therefore have the right to have a gun.


I think the reasoning goes that if we do not have this right, then the government might suppress the citizenry and create some sort of oppressive and non democratic society, or something like that.

My mind turns to Great Britain.  They have gun control.  Do I think that there is more of a chance that some despotic ruler, maybe the Queen, could impose a despotic reign and take away the rights of the citizens because they do not have "arms".  Hell no.

So, what's different here in this country?
I don't know.  I wish one of you gun happy, 2nd Amendment fanatics would explain it to me.

Even the right of free speech has its limitations. You cannot yell "fire" in a crowded theater.

How many people will be killed and maimed before we come to our senses?
We have probably killed more innocent people with guns than all the nuclear bombs that have ever been detonated. Let's get our priorities right.

It's time to support gun control legislation.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Apple's Newest Addition to its Product Line-up

This blog has concentrated on the history of Science and Technology and the important makers and milestones, their creativity and innovation.  Sometimes that history is being made before our very eyes.  I believe that one of those moments has just occurred.

 We all know the history of this great company and the incredible string of innovative products that have been released with amazing success.  Consumers love them. Their brand name is the envy of everyone looking to market a product successfully.  They are now the largest corporation in the world with a string of retail stores that produce more revenue per square foot than any other retailer.  A company whose customers line up for blocks, camping out overnight to be the first of their friends to have one of their new products.

Of course the company we are talking about is Apple.  They have captivated the world with their dazzling array of offerings.

But make no mistake, it is not the consumer that is first in the minds of the Apple executives.  They are always trying to maximize return for their shareholders.  The stock has increased many fold over the last decade and promises to continue to do so into the future. They pay handsome dividends and have aggressively repurchased shares on the open market with the vast amounts of cash that they have accumulated through sales of their products.

All that having been said, Apple has now embarked on the most innovative new product to further enhance their bottom line.  We all know about the "i" line of products: iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and, of course, iTunes.  This is not to mention their Macs, Air,  AppleTV, and the announced, but not even released, Watch and Apple Pay.  But now we have the iCahn.  Yes, the iCahn.  This extension of the "i" line of products is so innovative and profitable that the production costs are free, the margins are infinite and the marketing costs nothing.  The iCahn promises to increase the share price and dividends substantially.  Since the iCahn was first rumored, the price of Apple stock has increased over 50%, the dividend has been increased, and the stock has split 7 for 1.  With the news just released, the iCahn promises to double the stock price once again.

The importance of Icahn's "letter" to Tim Cook was not the 4500 words contained in it, but rather, just the changing the first letter of his last name to "i" and then capitalizing the "C".  This addition to the Apple line-up is pure genius!

Congratulations, Apple!

But, this brings me to the real point.  The real innovation is that there has been a slight of hand here. It should not be called the "iCahn", but rather, by its homonym "iCon" (not to be confused with the heteronym "icon" where the stress is on the first syllable).  Truly, the iCon will do wonders for Apple's bottom line, but as Carl well knows, this is most likely a self fulfilling prophecy perpetrated by the iCon himself.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bas Relief Wood Carving of Joseph Priestley at the Northumberland PA Post Office

I just discovered this Bas Relief Wood Carving of Joseph Priestley at the Northumberland PA Post Office.  This carving by Dina Melicov was completed in 1941 as part of the WPA Federal Arts Project.

For other images of this carving see here or here.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Trade Miracles in the Age of the Internet

When the great age of sailing was in full swing, there were a number of reasons why all this sailing was going on.  I can think of a number of distinct economic purposes:
1.  The trading of goods.  Yes, raw materials and finished materials could be sold for more in areas where their supply was more limited and there was a demand.
2.  The movement of people.  Much of the migration of the world took place during this period of time.
3.  The movement of information -- Mail, etc.
4.  The exercise of power by the Armies and Navies of the great powers.
5.  Exploration, both geographic and scientific.
6.  And, to a limited extent, pleasure.

It is the trading of goods that I wanted to explore from an interesting perspective.  Today, I received a book that I had purchased on the internet from a book dealer in the United Kingdom.  I could have gone down to the local book store (the few that are left) and purchased this 2012 hardback for $30.00 plus tax at about $33.00.  Or, I could have bought it from a book store in another state at a discount of about 20% without sales tax, but with shipping at about $28.00.  Or, I could have bought the paperback edition for $14.99 plus tax at $15.49.  Or I could have bought the ebook for $7.99 plus tax at $8.79.  But, this book is heavily illustrated, and I did not want to buy the ebook.  Or, I could have bought a used book in very good condition.  So, I went to and found a copy in like new condition (hardbound) in ENGLAND for $0.64 plus shipping of $3.79 for a total of $4.43.  This book weighs about 5 pounds and traveled about 7,000 miles as the crow flies to get to me and took about a week to get here.  This is the miracle of the internet.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Digital Democracy

I have become a member of  If you don't know what it is, I would encourage you to go to their site and take a look.  In essence what the folks at Nextdoor have done is break up the U.S. (??, not sure if it is just the U.S.) into neighborhoods and if someone will take the initiative in a given neighborhood to get them to become members of Nextdoor, then they effectively have a forum for just themselves on any neighborhood issues or notices that they want.  Now if adjoining neighborhoods become organized, then when a notice is posted, it can go not only to your own neighborhood, but also all the adjoining neighborhoods.  When I say neighborhood, I mean a really small number of households.  My neighborhood has about 130 members signed up out of maybe 200 homes.  Including the adjoining neighborhoods (there are 7) we have about 2400 households.
This service has worked quite well.  When burglaries occur, or there is a pet lost, or someone just needs a recommendation for a plumber this is just the right spot to go. Very local and these are the people you meet on the street if you go on a stroll with your dog.

There have been some tense moments when some issues have come up.  For example, there has been an issue with homeless people in the area and there is a clear schism between those who think we should extend ourselves as a community for these individuals and those who want to rid our town of them and that they are too great a burden on our community.  Nevertheless, the Nextdoor forum has been a wonderful medium for an honest an frank discussion on not only this issue, but many other "issues" that the community is facing.

Recently the folks at Nextdoor added a new feature on the site wherein the County could broadcast via Nextdoor information that it believes to be of importance to the community.  The County can broadcast to all the neighborhoods in the community or to any subset of neighborhoods.  So, the County issued a post on the site to all members in all neighborhoods in the County stating that this capability will be used by the County.  There are certain restrictions on the County's use of the Nextdoor site.  First, the County cannot look or read the conversations that the neighborhoods are having on their sites, nor can they look at the profiles of the members.  Members may choose to reply to the County posting, in which case that reply will go to the full scope of the County posting (that is, if it was a countywide posting then the reply will be visible to everyone in the county).
This opened up an opportunity for people in the county to start any discussion they wanted on a matter of interest to their community.  There have been some constraint put on the free two way conversations, but the general idea of allowing the citizenry to organize their discussions on local issues in such a well broadcast media was quite refreshing.

I use the term "digital democracy".  I did a search on the term and found that it has been used before, but I am not sure yet if it was used with the same connotation.  There is another term
E-democracy that is also getting some use.

In either case, this has gotten me to think about our democracy.  In the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution), Article I deals with the right of assembly of the citizenry. We all know this since we were in elementary school.  One of the founding principals of this country is that the citizens can assemble to discuss and also protest (in a peaceful way) anything that they want.  They can also petition the government with their grievances.

From a practical point of view this is not quite as simple as it sounds.  In this busy hustle bustle world we live in it is difficult to contact and get others to participate in such activity.  But now, with a little help from the internet and our friends at Nextdoor, it is very easy for us disorganized and busy citizens to get together electronically to discuss and also protest (in a peaceful way, of course) anything on the local level that we want.  The age of digital democracy has arrived.

Please comment on your thoughts about this new and exciting way to improve the democratic process.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Joseph Priestley on experimental philosophy and empiricism

I am reposting here a very interesting article written by Peter Anstey, ARC Future Fellow, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, University of Sydney, Australia that appeared on the University of Otago (New Zealand) Early Modern Experimental Philosophy website on April 28, 2014, with permission:

Joseph Priestley Rembrandt Peale [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Joseph Priestley
Rembrandt Peale [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Joseph Priestley is one of the most celebrated chemists of all time because of his role in the discovery of oxygen. So highly was he regarded that in 1922 the American Chemical Society named their most prestigious medal ‘The Priestley Medal’.
Priestley was born in 1733 and died in 1804. Thus, he flourished in the latter decades of the era of early modern experimental philosophy and a survey of his writings reveals that he embraced experimental philosophy. Indeed, by the late eighteenth century the experimental approach to natural philosophy was virtually without a rival in Britain. When analysing his writings on natural philosophy there is no sense that he believed that experimental philosophy needed to be defended or justified at all. To be sure, one finds the usual rhetoric of experimental philosophy, such as his comment in hisExperiments and Observations relating to various Branches of Natural Philosophy (London, 1779) that:
Speculation without experiment has always been the bane of true philosophy. (Preface, vii)
Yet when one turns to his Heads of Lectures on a Course of Experimental Philosophy (London, 1794) the term ‘Experimental Philosophy’ in the title is entirely unselfconscious. He opens Lecture I with a statement of the aim of the discipline:
The object of experimental philosophy is the knowledge of nature in general, or more strictly, that of the properties of natural substances, and of the changes of those properties in different circumstances. This knowledge can only be attained by experiment, orobservation. (p. 1)
He goes on to mention one of the ‘rules of philosophizing’ in this discipline: ‘to admit no more causes than are necessary to account for the effects’ (p. 3). Of course, this is Newton’s first rule of philosophizing from the second edition of the Principia and it is hardly surprising that Priestley goes on to claim that given the ‘power of gravity’ ‘we are authorized to reject the Cartesian Vortices’ (ibid.).
One might, therefore, regard Priestley’s writings as not having anything to teach us about early modern experimental philosophy. And yet there is at least one point that is worth highlighting, for, Priestley was the second person to use the term ‘empiricism’ in the title of a book in English. The first was Francis Guybon in his An Essay concerning the Growth of Empiricism; or the Encouragement of Quacks, London, 1712 which was an attack on medical quacks.
Then in 1775 Priestley published a book entitled Philosophical Empiricism: containing Remarks on a Charge of Plagiarism respecting Dr H––. He had been attacked by the Irish physician Bryan Higgins who had accused him of plagiarism and Priestley defended himself, attacking many claims in Higgins’ lectures and concluding:
These and suchlike long-exploded, and crude notions (so many of which I believe were never thrown together into the same compass since the age of Aristotle or Cartesius) are delivered in a manner and phrase so quaint, and a tone so solemn and authoritative, as gives me an idea that I cannot express otherwise than by the term Philosophical Empiricism. (p. 59)
What is interesting here is that ‘empiricism’ is used as a pejorative and is loosely associated with Descartes! This all predates the Kantian Rationalism and Empiricism distinction –– the RED. It is even tempting to claim that it shows the inappropriateness of foisting the term ‘empiricism’ in its Kantian sense on eighteenth century thinkers when it already had strong currency in eighteenth-century English with an entirely different meaning.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Priestley Sunday -- Celebrating Joseph Priestley's 281st Birthday