The Earth Is Not Flat


A friend passed me a link to this video:

Eratosthenes calculated the earth’s circumference to be 250,000 stadia. That would be a circumference of roughly 24,662 miles, which is very close to the modern value of 24,901 miles. He made his findings over 2,000 years ago with only the most primitive of tools.

The flat earth theory is still alive:

Members of the Flat Earth Society claim to believe the Earth is flat. Walking around on the planet’s surface, it looks and feels flat, so they deem all evidence to the contrary, such as satellite photos of Earth as a sphere, to be fabrications of a “round Earth conspiracy” orchestrated by NASA and other government agencies.

Yes. There is a Flat Earth Society.

And, from the Atlantic:

When I first heard that rapper B.o.B apparently believes the Earth is flat, I sighed the weary sigh of a science writer facing down an anti-science culture. Evolution, climate change, vaccines, and now #FlatEarth? “Are you kidding me?” I thought. Will Americans insist on rejecting everything that 100 percent of scientists agree on?

I was doing interval training on the bike today. Inside. The training video was climbing hills.

And then a thought came to my mind. What hills? I am riding on a stationary spin bike. On a flat and level surface.

The conclusion is obvious: the earth must be flat.



Why Rosetta?

The European Space Agency’s unprecedented mission of cometary exploration is named after the famous ‘Rosetta Stone’. This slab of volcanic basalt – now in the British Museum in London ”“ was the key to unravelling the civilisation of ancient Egypt.

Amazing photoset here.

No Snow

Let’s see. The Old Farmer’s Almanac had this prediction about the 2011-2012 winter:

Winter temperatures will be about a degree C below normal, on average, with the coldest temperatures in late November, mid- and late December, mid- and late January, and early February. Precipitation and snowfall will be above normal in the east and slightly below normal in the west. The snowiest periods will be in early January, mid- to late January, and early February.

As of today, there is little evidence of any snow in the Kingston area. And unusually mild temperatures. This seems to be true for much of North America.

So what happened to winter? NASA climatologist Bill Patzert of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory tries to explain:

“First of all,” he explains, “we are experiencing a La Niña pattern of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. This pushes the jet stream and the cold arctic air northward.”

“On top of that, this year’s Arctic Oscillation has been stronger.”

The Arctic Oscillation is a see-sawing pressure difference between the Arctic and lower latitudes. When the pressure difference is high, a whirlpool of air forms around the North Pole. Last year, the whirlpool motion was weaker, allowing cold air to escape from the polar regions and head southward to the US.

“This year the whirlpool has been more forceful, corralling the cold air and keeping it nearer the pole. That has reinforced the La Niña impact.”

Discover Magazine makes these reassuring observations:

But why?, you ask. Why have these [Arctic] oscillations been so weird? Unfortunately, Masters writes, we don”™t really know why these variations happen. Addressing the elephant in the room — I”™m looking at you, climate change — he says, “Climate models are generally too crude to make skillful predictions on how human-caused climate change may be affecting the AO, or what might happen to the AO in the future.”? But he notes that there are links between solar activity and sunspots and positive values and between arctic sea ice loss and negative values. Whether this year”™s strong positives are related to sunspots, though, isn”™t clear.

Hearing Loss

How bad is my hearing loss from this current struggle with an inner ear infection?

Pretty severe.

This is day five and there has not been any noticeable improvement in my hearing. The pressure in the right ear has subsided and I am no longer taking ibuprofen to relieve that pain. However, the right ear continues to be plugged.

Without a reference point, it was hard for me to know the current state and whether things were improving. I was using ToneTester to assess pitch consistency. And certainly below 200 Hz I am anywhere from a semitone to two semitones off side-to-side. But I needed a better testing platform to assess the hearing loss. And hopefully map the recovery.

I went into the studio and created a series of test tones: 200 Hz, 500 Hz, 1 KHz, 2.5 KHz and 5 KHz. All tones were created as sine waves referenced at -20dB from unity gain. I auditioned the tracks using sound isolation headphones — these headphones cut external sound by -25 dB although it was 5:30am and things were pretty quiet around the house. Headphone volume control was set at 10 percent. Why ten percent? It produced a sound level that was roughly 75 dB at 1 KHz on my right ear. A comfortable sound level.

Tones were auditioned left side then right side. I adjusted the left faders down until I arrived at a qualitative level of balance side-to-side.

With the right side faders at unity gain, here were the results:

  • 200 Hz, down 18.8 dB
  • 500 Hz, down 24.6 dB
  • 1 KHz, down 26.0 dB
  • 2.5 KHz, down 21.2 dB
  • 5 KHz, down 19.8 dB

At roughly -20 dB difference in auditory perception, that amounts to .01 delta side-to-side or a factor of 100 times.


I can tell that surface rubbing behind the ear provides a consistent perception of sound left to right so I am hoping that it is simply a matter of time for the fluid to drain on the right side.

The past several days have been difficult and challenging. I hope that recovery comes soon. I am spending the next 12 hours or so on a tech crew for sound and multimedia. Fortunately I am not on sound for this event. But being anywhere around sound is really, really tough. More so when the ambient volume level goes up.

Rich Media and eBooks

A friend had pointed me to a website where the content was presented in a magazine style format. Clicking a tab would create a sense of virtually flipping a page. And it did a pretty good job of presenting content like a magazine.

I’m hopeful that the web will provide a far more engaging experience. This clip, although a bit long for those of you with attention deficit disorders, illustrates how something as fundamental as a science book, can come to life and offer a vastly different experience in browsing the web. In a way, it illustrates why a device like the iPad is a revolutionary device.

Beyond Capacity

I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can”™t conceive. Just as a chimpanzee can”™t understand quantum theory, it could be there are aspects of reality that are beyond the capacity of our brains — Lord Rees

Don’t talk to aliens — Stephen Hawking


Swine Flu

One of the analyst groups I work with had produced an excellent paper on contingency planning for H1N1.

The report is not available for download but they did make an interesting observation:

On a cautionary note, the H1N1 virus has not been particularly severe so far for most of the infected population, although the virus is spreading rapidly. During the 1976 swine flu outbreak, an extensive vaccination program did not prove particularly successful, with more people reporting bad side effects from the vaccine than experienced the actual virus.

Richard E. Neustadt was commissioned by the U.S Government to produce a report on the 1976 swine flu outbreak. The report — The Swine Flu Affair, Decision-Making on a Slippery Disease — can be downloaded as a pdf file here.

An interesting excerpt from the report:

The National Influenza Immunization Program, the official title for this venture, was unprecedented in intended timing and in scope among American immunization efforts. It aimed at inoculating everyone before December 1976 against a new flu strain that might conceivably become as big a killer as the flu of 1918, the worst ever. The program was funded by Congress through a $135 million appropriation, and it was later buttressed by special legislation in the field of liability. It was conducted through state health departments, with technical assistance from health agencies in HEW. Inoculations started late, October 1, 1976. They had been slowed somewhat by difficulties in deciding children”™s dosages and seriously stalled by liability issues. On December 16, the program was suspended to assess statistical evidence of a serious side-effect. Mass immunization never started up again. As a full-scale operation, the program”™s life was thus not twelve months but two and a half.

The killer never came. The fact that it was feared is one of many things to show how little experts understand the flu, and thus how shaky are the health initiatives launched in its name. What influenza needs, above all, is research. Decision-making for the swine flu program had seven leading features. To simplify somewhat, they are:

  • Overconfidence by specialists in theories spun from meagre evidence.
  • Conviction fueled by a conjunction of some preexisting personal agendas.
  • Zeal by health professionals to make their lay superiors do right.
  • Premature commitment to deciding more than had to be decided.
  • Failure to address uncertainties in such a way as to prepare for reconsideration.
  • Insufficient questioning of scientific logic and of implementation prospects.
  • Insensitivity to media relations and the long-term credibility of institutions.

Hopefully we are not repeating the same seven features.

Woody Norris Invents Amazing Things

A friend passed me the link to Woody Norris’ chat at TED. Some neat ideas. He talks about the concept of focused sound although you won’t hear the effect of his waterfall demo. But the idea that sound can be focused like light is very interesting. And the concept that we have only just begun to invent is also interesting.