Not “Dead Presidents”

Not Dead Presidents

Attention, Americans:

These two men, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin, are, indeed, dead. However, neither of them ever served as president. Therefore, please stop calling money “dead presidents,” unless you are excluding these two denominations, and, moreover, please stop this immediately.

Your cooperation is appreciated.

My Polyhedral Nemesis: The Great Icosahedron

My Polyhedral Nemesis:  The Great Icosahedron

I used Stella 4d, a program you can find at http://www.software3d.com/stella.php, to make the rotating .gif file you see here. You can many such rotating pictures of other polyhedra elsewhere on this blog.

Older versions of this program would only create still images. In those days, I would also make actual physical models out of paper (usually posterboard or card stock). However, I’ve stopped doing that, now that I can make these rotating pictures.

There is one polyhedron for which I never could construct a physical model, although I tried on three separate occasions. It’s this one, the great icosahedron, discovered, to the best of my knowledge, by Johannes Kepler. Although it only has twenty faces (equilateral triangles), they interpenetrate — and each triangle has nine regions visible (called “facelets”), with the rest of each face hidden inside the polyhedron.

To create a physical model, 180 of these facelets must be individually cut out, and then glued or taped together, and there’s very little margin for error. On my three construction-attempts, I did make mistakes — but did not discover them until I had already built much more of the model. When making paper models, if errors are made, there is a certain point beyond which repair is impossible, or nearly so.

Although I never succeeded in making a physical model of the great icosahedron myself, and likely never will, I did once have a team of three students in a geometry class successfully build one. One of the students kept the model, and all three received “A” grades.

The Strange American Custom of Holiday Observance

The Strange American Custom of Holiday Observance

Today is not Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s actual birthday. The anniversary of his birth came, this year, last Wednesday. As you can see above, that’s January 15. However, it’s being observed today — the date circled above — to give people a three-day weekend.

That’s related to something else, apart from the sheer inaccuracy of moving a date on the calendar, that bugs me about “MLK Day,” as it is often called. It’s essentially the same thing that bothers me about Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day. To honor people we respect and admire for their hard work — for civil rights, defending the nation in battle, or anything else — what do we often do, as a nation? We close schools, many businesses, the stock market, mail service, etc., all to give as many people as possible a day without work. How does a day off, of all things, honor the hard work of anyone?

Stephen Hawking, on His Own IQ, and IQs in General

Stephen Hawking, On IQ

I have had my IQ tested, but, like Stephen Hawking, I have no idea what it is. The people conducting the test did not share the results with me.

This does not bother me in the slightest. Why? Because I agree with Hawking on this subject, that’s why!

Something You Likely Did Not Know, About the “Pledge of Allegiance”

I thought I knew the (rather complicated) history of the “Pledge of Allegiance” well — until I saw this picture. This was the original “flag salute” pose American students were taught to use, nationwide, until World War II was well underway. It had been in use since 1892, and was called the “Bellamy salute.”

The current “hand over the heart” gesture didn’t go into effect until 1942, and was changed in reaction to the Nazis using essentially the same salute which you see American schoolchildren displaying in this (circa 1941) photograph. From where did this gesture really originate? A common belief is that it started in ancient Rome, but the article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_salute — and the sources cited there — throw doubt on this idea. It seems that, instead, this gesture was depicted in an 1874 painting of an ancient Roman scene, spread into other neoclassical artworks, then plays and other performances, until it was well-established in the public consciousness as something the ancient Romans did — but that belief appears to be unsupported by the relatively small number of actual writings, or works of art, which have survived from ancient times.

It was twelve years after the change in the civilian American flag-salute gesture that Congress made another, much better-known change — the 1954 addition (unconstitutional, in my opinion) of the words “under God.” Just as the early gesture-change was made, in wartime, as a reaction against the practices of an enemy, arguments have been made that this change in the wording of the Pledge was made for similar reasons, given that we were then in the early years of the Cold War, with America’s enemies, in that long struggle, being what were often called the “Godless Communists.”

[Additional source, beyond the one given above: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pledge_of_Allegiance (with more sources cited at the bottom of that article)].

“Strong Grape Juice”


My earliest memory of a church service involves a trip to visit relatives, and I started discovering how different from others I was at a very young age. This is one of the episodes which played a major role in that discovery.

I was only four of five years old, and had already developed an intense hatred of being bored. Ignoring the sermon seemed like an even more boring prospect that actually paying attention to it, so I consciously chose the latter, which I’ve observed is often not the choice young children make.

This church’s denomination is one of those that teaches that drinking alcohol is sinful. They are also Biblical literalists. This, of course, poses a problem, for there is a lot of drinking of wine to be found in the Bible. This preacher didn’t avoid the contradiction, though. His task, that Sunday morning, was to deal with it head-on, and he did so with the following claim: when Jesus, his disciples, and numerous other people from the Bible are described as drinking wine, that wine actually contained no alcohol. It was not wine as we know it today. It was, rather, merely “strong grape juice.” Those were his exact words.

Even at that young age, I had already started working on building, in my own mind, the best crap detector I could possibly create. (Improving it is still something I work on today.) I didn’t yet realize that real wine would be far safer, before refrigeration existed, than grape juice, simply because alcohol, at the concentrations found in wine, kills lots of disease-causing bacteria. However, that morning, I had learned enough to instantly recognize this “strong grape juice” claim as absolute crap.

Dismissing the preacher as not worthy of further attention, I stood up in our pew, and turned around to face the back of the church. We were sitting near the front, so this let me see most of the congregation. I didn’t need to speak to them — I just wanted to look at them. I remember being stunned by what I saw. Nearly everyone appeared quite attentive to the sermon. Some mouths were half-open, and numerous heads were nodding in agreement with the preacher’s droning nonsense. I figured it out: they were actually accepting what this man was saying as the truth, and were doing so without question! They believed him! At first, I felt dizzy, and then, later, I felt sick. The more I thought about the experience, the worse I felt, and I could think about nothing else for a long time after that church service finally ended.

I’d been exposed to religion many times before, but it always seemed to me that adults didn’t really believe what they were saying, any more than when they told children my age about the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. At that moment, though, I realized I had been mistaken. This was no act. These people, in that church that day, actually believed what they were told. Why? I didn’t know. I still don’t. If that man told then that two plus two equals six, would they believe that? I suspected they would.

I was surrounded by a herd of sheep. That moment of clarity, when I realized this fact, scared me. It made me wonder, and not for the last nor first time, if I had been secretly planted on earth by aliens, as a baby, and without a guidebook.

This is only one of many experiences that convinced me of the importance of skepticism.
The fact that it is so clear, in my memory, leads me to think it was one of the more important of those experiences. It cemented, in my mind, a scary truth: the world is infested with large numbers of incredibly gullible, deluded people. They weren’t like me. I didn’t understand them. They were everywhere. I wasn’t anything like them, and didn’t want to be, either. I was, however, stuck here with them.

I was stranded on the wrong planet, with no prospect for escape, any time soon. That was over forty years ago, and I’m still here.

The Story of the Void, Chapter Two

The Story of the Void, Chapter Two

For chapter one: https://robertlovespi.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/the-story-of-the-void-chapter-one/

* * *

Richard had no way to know how long he’d been flat on his back, in a bed, in a dark, locked, otherwise-empty room. He was angered when the lights came on. They were bright. The door opened. A man in an expensive suit walked in.

Richard’s brain went into “attack mode,” and told his body to kill this intruder. Having recently undergone major abdominal surgery, though, his body wasn’t up to the task. He collapsed in a heap at the man’s feet.

“That wasn’t very smart, Richard. However, we don’t need you for your mind. You’ll work fine.” The man turned to speak more loudly, in the direction of the open door. “This one will work! Have him ready to launch in a week!”

“Launch? What launch?” Richard hadn’t been conscious since being shot by police after a killing spree. He was furious, but powerless to do anything about it. “Who are you? Don’t I get a lawyer or something?”

“You killed twenty-two people. You were captured and shot by the police. A doctor worked for hours to save you. As far as anyone knows, though, he failed. The world thinks you’re dead, and absolutely no one misses you, or will look for you. Don’t expect a lawyer. Yes, you’ll be perfect.” The man left before Richard could gather the strength to attempt attack again. The lights stayed on — for the rest of the time Richard was in the room.

Richard received drugs through an IV tube. He got angry at one point, and ripped the IV out of his arm, spraying blood all over the place. Gas then entered the room through a panel in the ceiling, and, when he could finally hold his breath no more, he inhaled a small amount, and it knocked him out.

When he next regained consciousness, he was held motionless by restraints. A new IV was in his other arm, and a feeding tube had been placed down his throat. He was surprised he didn’t gag, for he had no way to know that one of the drugs entering his body through the IV tube suppressed his gag reflex. His fury filled his thoughts, after only a little while, but it made no difference. He could do nothing except heal. A week later, he was judged healthy enough to survive a launch into space — maybe — by a team of doctors whom he never saw. Most of them had medical and/or ethical reservations, of course, and expressed them. These objections were ignored.

One doctor never voiced objections. He was the one who was monitoring this unusual patient when he had a strong sedative administered, and then taken to a small space probe, atop a tall rocket. By that point, the other doctors had all been reassigned, and some were already dead, seemingly from natural causes. The rest followed soon thereafter, by “disease” or “accident.”

Richard was still heavily sedated when the rocket was launched. Accelerating him into space nearly killed him, but that didn’t bother the computer which piloted the space probe. It didn’t need Richard’s assistance, and simply monitored his vital signs, relaying them back to Houston Space Central. He had no viewport, and so did not know that he had been placed into orbit around the sun, in earth’s orbit, but in the opposite direction.

Months earlier, a powerful, automated telescope, in solar orbit, had detected something no one in NASA had been able to explain. It was located in earth’s orbit, also, on the far side of the sun, where the earth would be or was, six months into the future or past. It revolved around the sun at the same speed as the earth, and in the same direction. It might have just appeared there, or it might have been there for billions of years. There was no way to tell, for the simple reason that no one had looked at that region of space before.

After it was discovered that the object’s x-ray signature resembled that of a black hole, the decision was quickly made to keep the anomaly a secret, lest a panic begin. In other wavelengths, though, it appeared as a planet-sized object of the expected temperature, or didn’t appear at all. The distribution of readings along the electromagnetic spectrum baffled all who were allowed access to this discovery. It wasn’t perturbing any orbits with the gravitational pull it would have if it had, say, the mass of the earth, or even of earth’s moon. As far as NASA’s scientists could tell, it had no gravitational effect on anything.

A robotic probe was sent to the far side of the sun, equipped with observational and communications equipment. It sent signals, right up to the point when it had encountered the anomaly. At that moment, it fell permanently silent.

The loss of a $950,000,000 space probe would be hard to hide from Congress, so the second probe, the one containing Richard Wayne Dahmer, was stripped down, and less expensive. It did not have the sophisticated sensing equipment on the first probe. It was sent simply to learn what effect, if any, close proximity, and then an actual encounter with, the enigma in earth’s orbit would have on a human being, and then send that medical data back to earth. No well-known, expensively-trained astronaut was needed; what was, rather, was someone deemed completely expendable. Richard, therefore, fit the criteria for this mission perfectly. No one connected to the mission saw any reason to inform Richard, himself, of any of this, and so he had no idea what awaited him. But, then again, neither did those people who merely thought they were controlling his mission.

He got furious, repeatedly, but that didn’t matter. After three months, his windowless probe encountered the anomaly. Once again, mission monitors for NASA saw all communications from a probe go dark, all at the same time. The conclusion was that the anomaly was incompatible with human life, and that the involuntary passenger on the probe had died.

Richard wasn’t dead, however. He, and his probe, fell into the mysterious singularity. Like a black hole, it had an event horizon. The probe passed through it, entering a void out of which it could send no signals back to earth, and inside which it detected, just as it vanished, the first, purely-robotic probe NASA had sent. The message about this discovery could not escape the event horizon, however, and so there it stayed.

The singularity woke up. It was conscious now. It had reversed direction, acquiring the momentum of Richard’s probe, in its entirety, as if the singularity itself had no mass. It was headed toward earth, along that planet’s orbit. It also vanished from the view of the sun-orbiting telescope which had first detected it. No one on earth knew it was coming.

Richard Wayne — no, just Richard, that was enough, he needed no other name now — was awake, and undrugged, now. There was no evidence of the probe that had held him for the last three months. He saw only the void. He didn’t see the singularity. He was the singularity, and the singularity was him.

The brain tumor that had been exerting ever-increasing pressure on that part of the brain responsible for moral reasoning — for ethical behavior — was now gone, along with Richard’s physical brain, itself. Only his consciousness remained, unimpaired by the undiscovered tumor which had turned him into a raging psychopath.

He wasn’t angry any longer, and, although he didn’t know it, he was now heading towards home.

* * *

The Story of the Void continues here: https://robertlovespi.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/the-story-of-the-void-chapter-three/.