(Roughly) Daily

“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.”*…



Cause of death has changed over the years. In 1999, the suicide rate among 25- to 34-year-olds was 12.7 per 100,000 people. By 2016, that rate was almost 30 percent higher at 16.5.

These shifts over time are common and vary across sex and age groups.

With the release of the annual health report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I looked at the subcategories of mortality, as defined by the World Health Organization, focusing specifically on how the ten most common ways to die have changed over the years…

causes of death

See (a full-sized and working version of) Nathan Yau’s animation of the changing causes of death, by sex and age group, in the U.S. from 1999 to 2016: “Shifting Causes of Death.”

* Isaac Asimov


As we memento mori, we might spare a thoughts for Gertrude Mary Cox; she died on this date in 1978.  A pioneering statistician best known for her important work on experimental design, she founded the department of Experimental Statistics at North Carolina State University and later served as director of both the Institute of Statistics of the Consolidated University of North Carolina and the Statistics Research Division of North Carolina State University.  In 1949 Cox became the first female elected into the International Statistical Institute and in 1956 was President of the American Statistical Association.

Siddell Studio source


Written by LW

October 17, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go”*…




Harmonia Macrocosmica (1660), an atlas of the stars from the Dutch Golden Age of cartography, maps the structure of the heavens in twenty-nine extraordinary double-folio spreads. We are presented with the motions of the celestial bodies, the stellar constellations of the northern hemisphere, the old geocentric universe of Ptolemy, the newish heliocentric one of Copernicus [as above], and Tycho Brahe’s eccentric combination of the two — in which the Moon orbits the Earth, and the planets orbit the Sun, but the Sun still orbits the Earth. The marginal area of each brightly coloured map is a hive of activity: astronomers bent over charts debate their findings, eager youngsters direct their quadrants skywards, and cherubs fly about with pet birds in tow…

northern stars

The Northern Stellar Hemisphere of Antiquity

More marvelous maps of the heavens at “The Celestial Atlas of Andreas Cellarius (1660)

* Galileo (quoting a librarian at the Vatican)


As we look to the stars, we might recall that it was on this date in 1843 that Sir William Rowan Hamilton conceived the theory of quaternions.  A physicist, astronomer, and mathematician who made important contributions to classical mechanics, optics, and algebra, he had been working since the late 1830s on the basic principles of algebra, resulting in a theory of conjugate functions, or algebraic couples, in which complex numbers are expressed as ordered pairs of real numbers.  But he hadn’t succeeded in developing a theory of triplets that could be applied to three-dimensional geometric problems.  Walking with his wife along the Royal Canal in Dublin, Hamilton realized that the theory should involve quadruplets, not triplets– at which point he stopped to carve carve the underlying equations in a nearby bridge lest he forget them.



Written by LW

October 16, 2018 at 1:01 am

“And so the Universe ended”*…



Conceptual illustration of the Higgs Field that physicists believe permeates the Universe, and that could theoretically bring about its end.


Every once in a while, physicists come up with a new way to destroy the Universe. There’s the Big Rip (a rending of spacetime), the Heat Death (expansion to a cold and empty Universe), and the Big Crunch (the reversal of cosmic expansion). My favourite, though, has always been vacuum decay. It’s a quick, clean and efficient way of wiping out the Universe…

Learn more about a possibility that really sucks: “Vacuum decay: the ultimate catastrophe.”

* Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe


As we we abhor a vacuum even more than nature does, we might send closely-observed birthday greetings to Jesse Leonard Greenstein; he was born on this date in 1909.  An astronomer who ran Cal Tech’s storied program for decades, he co-discovered (with Maarten Schmidt) the quasar.  While other astronomers had previously observed the bright bodies, Greenstein and Schmidt were the first to to interpret the red shift of quasars and correctly identify them as compact, very distant– and thus very old– objects.  Later, working with Louis Henyey, Greenstein designed and built a new spectrograph and wide-view camera to improve astronomical observations,

greenstein source


Written by LW

October 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

“It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them!”*…




This is my summary of the history of (Western) philosophy showing the positive/negative connections between some of the key ideas/arguments of the philosophers. It’s a never-ending work-in-progress and the current version is mainly based on Bryan Magee’s The Story of Philosophy and Thomas Baldwin’s Contemporary Philosophy, with many other references for specific philosophers/arguments. (The source is noted with the book icon that appears when you click on an argument.)…

From Deniz Cem Önduygu, a fascinating interactive tool for exploring the development of Western philosophy: “The history of philosophy, summarized and visualized.”  [TotH to friend MK]

For a different (but also engaging) visualization of some of this same history, see “The Structure of Recent Philosophy.”

* Friedrich Nietzsche


As we investigate influence, we might send deeply-thoughtful birthday greetings to Hannah Arendt; she was born on this date in 1906.  Though often categorized as a philosopher, she self-identified as a political theorist, arguing that philosophy deals with “man in the singular,” while her work centers on the fact that “men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world.”  One of the seminal political thinkers of the twentieth century, the power and originality of her thinking was evident in works such as The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, On Revolution and The Life of the Mind.  Her famous New Yorker essay and later book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil— in which she raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness, a tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions and inaction– was controversial as it was widely misunderstood as defending Eichmann and blaming Jewish leaders for the Holocaust.  That book ended:

Just as you [Eichmann] supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.



Written by LW

October 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

“If you think this Universe is bad, you should see some of the others”*…



FIRST OF FOUR?: The first Copernican revolution moved the Earth out of the center of the solar system. The second recognized that there are many planets in our galaxy, and the third that there are many galaxies in the observable universe. Proving that our universe is one among many would represent a fourth Copernican revolution.


A challenge for 21st-century physics is to answer two questions. First, are there many “big bangs” rather than just one? Second—and this is even more interesting—if there are many, are they all governed by the same physics?

If we’re in a multiverse, it would imply a fourth and grandest Copernican revolution; we’ve had the Copernican revolution itself, then the realization that there are billions of planetary systems in our galaxy; then that there are billions of galaxies in our observable universe. But now that’s not all. The entire panorama that astronomers can observe could be a tiny part of the aftermath of “our” big bang, which is itself just one bang among a perhaps infinite ensemble.

At first sight, the concept of parallel universes might seem too arcane to have any practical impact. But it may (in one of its variants) actually offer the prospect of an entirely new kind of computer: the quantum computer, which can transcend the limits of even the fastest digital processor by, in effect, sharing the computational burden among a near infinity of parallel universes…

Cambridge physicist and Astronomer Royal Martin Rees suspects that our universe is one island in an archipelago: “The Fourth Copernican Revolution.”

* Philip K. Dick


As we find our place, we might recall that it was on this date in 1884 that 41 delegates from 25 nations, meeting in Washington, DC for the International Meridian Conference, adopted Greenwich as the universal meridian.  They also established that all longitude would be calculated both east and west from this meridian up to 180°.

PrimeMeridianThm source


Written by LW

October 13, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Things on the whole are much faster in America; people don’t ‘stand for election’, they ‘run for office.'”*…



If you want to find a Republican member of Congress, head out into the country. To find a Democrat, your best shot is in a city. But to find a competitive election this fall? Head to the suburbs, where control of the House of Representatives will likely be decided.

More than 40 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives is composed of predominantly suburban districts, according to a new CityLab analysis that classifies all 435 U.S. House districts according to their densities. These seats are currently closely divided between Democrats and Republicans. But that balance could be washed away by a “blue wave” in November. There are 28 Republican-held suburban districts that are competitive1 this fall under FiveThirtyEight’s projections—close to 40 percent of Republicans’ 74 suburban seats. The number of suburban Democratic seats in play: 1 out of 90…

The fascinating analysis in full at: “Density is Destiny.”

* Jessica Mitford


As we get out the vote, we might note that today is International Moment of Frustration Scream Day– one is encouraged to go outside at twelve hundred hours Greenwich Mean Time and scream for a solid thirty seconds.  The occasion was created by Ruth and Tom Roy, who have a long suit in this sort of thing.

scream_21 source


“I’ve never seen contraptions with so many dials and knobs before”*…


control panels

Control room, Klingenberg Power Station, Berlin, 1928. Photos by E.O. Hoppé.


Just one selection from the plethora of “dials, toggles, buttons, and bulbs” at “Control Panel.”

* “Lampy,” in The Brave Little Toaster


As we twist and turn, we might spare a thought for Guillaume Amontons; he died on this date in 1705.  A physicist who made formative contributions to the understanding of friction, he was also an accomplished designer of scientific instruments– perhaps most notably, the air thermometer, which relies on increase in volume of a gas (rather than a liquid) with temperature.  His approach led to the emergence of the concept of “absolute zero.”

amonton thermometer source

Amontons source


Written by LW

October 10, 2018 at 10:01 pm

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