In the Path of Totality

Yesterday we (along with Fr. A) piled into the Megavan, hitched up the new travel trailer, and drove north for almost 500 miles in order to place ourselves within the narrow band in which the shadow of the moon will fall upon our Earth. After five hours sleep, we were up, cooking pancakes and sipping coffee and thanking our hosts for letting us camp in their front yard. Until about 48 hours ago, this wasn’t the plan, but, the unforgettable is rarely planned. 



This photo, although pretty cool, doesn’t really show what it was like. This is too much like a sun with a dot in the middle. Actually the black of the moon was so intense and in contrast surrounded by a most vibrant WHITE ring with wisps of misty light emanating from the ring. 


And Now (due to “Synod Fatigue”) Something Completely Different

To quote C-3PO, “I can’t bear to watch.” So, instead, a roundup of fun “technology” links:

  • According to this article from Reuters, Apple has argued to a New York federal court in a written brief that it is “impossible” to unlock iPhones without a user’s passcode, due to improvements to encryption for iOS version 8 and later.
  • The new Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens”, continues to trend, with the release of the latest theatrical trailer during halftime on last night’s “Monday Night Football” program (and millions of geeks are forced to watch football on TV). Of course, you could just wait a couple more minutes and see it nearly anywhere on-line. Hopefully geeks were smart enough to realize that.
  • Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 4.29.54 PMWe won’t know until we are much nearer to December 18 whether the latest Star Wars movie incarnation is any good or not, but one thing we can agree upon is that Disney’s purchase of LucasFilm has raised merchandising to completely new and stratospheric levels. You want Christmas gift ideas for the Quartermaster and his family of wookies? Look no further than this, or this, or:
  • Speaking of the Power of the Force (of advertising), (this is truly one of the slickest ad pieces EVURRRR), along with the movie media blitz, a new Star Wars Battlefront game drops on November 17 for Xbox One, PS4, or PC.
  • Shifting franchises slightly, astronomers theorize that they may have discovered a real life example of a Dyson Sphere (no, not one of those vacuum thingies).

Astronomer 1: That star (billions of light years away)….. Has a strange flashing thing going on….. 
Astronomer 2: Magnify.
Astronomer 1: Inconclusive. 

Astronomer 2: I bet it’s a Dyson sphere, just like in Episode 130 of ST:TNG!
Astronomer 1: I’ll notify the press!

An Alterative Paradox! 

“But I thought science means factual,” little Sally Schoolgirl fussed. “It says in this article that scientists recently discovered an object in the Universe that is so large, it should not exist according to the Big Bang theory.” 

Bobby Obvious rolled his eyes. “Big Bang theory. Duh.” 

She winced. “You mean the notion that billions of years ago the Universe just randomly, inexplicably, and in the total absence of creative intellect, exploded into existence without any chain of causality isn’t a provable fact?? It could actually be untrue?”


Meanwhile, Catholic parents everywhere, giving thanks for the glorious and Mysterious majesty of Creation, give additional thanks to God for the revelation that the largest known void is not their children’s brains. {h/t Fr. A}

“Home School Days” at Monterey Bay Aquarium


The Monterey Bay Aquarium (if you’ve never visited) is truly a world-class aquarium, perhaps (arguably) the finest aquarium in the world. The exhibits are incredible, spectacular. The location (Monterey’s Cannery Row, situation in an old sardine factory) is stunningly beautiful.


FullSizeRender-2And, if you homeschool, the Aquarium offers a series of “Home School” days each year, and invites homeschooling families to visit the aquarium free of charge. For us (a family of six), this represented a savings of $180, which more than paid for our hotel room and a meal. We combined this trip to the Aquarium with our visit to the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission, so for us there was a science, history, and religion component to the trip.

We visited on January 12, and we prepared for the “field trip” the week before. We made an aquatic habitat at home, using a big sheet of paper, crayons and markers, and by coloring and cutting out the individual animals (available in the Education section on the Aquarium website) which were pasted onto our habitat. The boys enjoyed it (and since I’m not a very “artsy” homeschool teacher) as a fun art activity in addition to the science that they learned.


During our visit, there were a lot of volunteers and docents (who are very friendly and knowledgeable) at each exhibit to talk to the kids and answer their questions. There were FullSizeRender-1a lot of “interactive” activities, including the opportunity to work with arts and crafts, touch a lot of different animals, and even observe the dissections of several specimens.

The fact that the Monterey Bay Aquarium offers these “Home School Days” to the homeschooling community is a tremendous gift that deserves a lot of appreciation. I’m very grateful to them for opening up the Aquarium to homeschoolers, and giving us all an opportunity to learn.

How Many “Bio-Ethicists” Does it Take to Screw in a Lightbulb?

Probably just one. But wouldn’t it be fun to see what would happen if there were two? And if two is fun, maybe three would be even funner. And heck, if our goal is fun and adventure, can a fourth bioethicist contribute anything to installing that lightbulb? No idea. Maybe. Who knows? Let’s try it with four anyway just to see. That would be a blast. Sometimes it’s good to do things “just because”. Because since it’s possible, we should do it. That’s what ethics teaches us. Do what’s possible. Once you find any reason (excuse) for doing a stupid thing, then it becomes an ethical action. If you repeat this mantra, possibly while doing yoga, in the blooming lotus or stretching dog position, it will sounds very ethical indeed. Dooooo whatttttt’ssss posssssible. Bio-Ethics!

“Hello, Computer!”

Our little 20-month-old daughter, Lucy, already knows that if she gets her paws on mommy or daddy’s phone, she can hold down the button on the front and make it talk. She knows that if she talks to it, it will talk back to her.

One wonders if little Gutenberg, sitting at the feet of his father, received lectures on the cumbersome nature of immovable type in printing, and resolved to change things when he got a little older. It would be appropriate, because every generation has its own “in our day” stories.

But in the Information Age, technological development is an exponential growth curve, so that in future generations, comparisons will become nearly impossible; common reference points will be rendered irrelevant by obsolescence. Think of attempts to describe vacuum tubes, LPs or 8-track cassettes in contrast to today’s technology, squared or cubed to a higher order. 

When I wasn’t much older than daughter Lucy, I was fascinated by technology. A “nerd”, I watched reruns of the original Star Trek series after school, and absolutely loved the idea of an “intelligent” computer that could receive input in the form of voice commands and respond in kind, as portrayed in science fiction — as opposed to then’s “cutting edge”: monochromatic green glowing tubes with their ASCII text set, floppy disks storing kilobytes, and single-tone beeps.

Science fiction is suddenly just science. And we get to be here for the ride.

Within just two or three generations, the wonders wrought by the minds of humans have taken members of our species into space and onto other celestial bodies. These revolutionary steps began in our own time, in the infancy of computers. There were machines that cost millions of dollars and filled entire rooms, but provided computing power that is now dwarfed by a basic smartphone.

That’s right. Your phone is more powerful than the computers used for the Apollo missions. Just sit and ponder that for a minute! Your PHONE!

Children born today — from their very earliest memory — will expect computers to talk, and listen. It won’t be long before we will be fooled into believing that we are interacting with actual humans when it is an artificially-created computer intelligence that responds. We already have — a la Skynet and courtesy of Google — self-programming computers.

In 1986, Montgomery Scott — who traveled back in time from 2286, alighted from a cloaked Klingon ship parked in Golden Gate Park. He visited an engineer and encountered a personal computer in the engineer’s office.

The computer — an Apple Macintosh — was one of the most “advanced” PC of the time, because it was equipped with a mouse. I remember those machines; our school received a grant for a Mac computer lab, and they were so cool compared the boring Tandy TRS-80 that my parents owned, and my Texas Instruments TI-99/4A. If you recall, most IBM personal computers still relied upon the text-based MS-DOS, when the mouse (and graphics) was still something of a novelty. Personal computers were only in less than 10% of homes then, in part because they not affordable and couldn’t do very much.

IMG_0241Mr. Scott was handed the computer’s mouse, which he used like a microphone, saying: “Hello, Computer!” Confusion swept across his face at receiving no response. Were he addressing the Enterprise computer, the dulcet tones of Gene Roddenberry’s wife would personalize the shipboard intelligence. When it was suggested that Mr. Scott “Just use the keyboard,” he replied, “How quaint,” before he cracked his knuckles and got to work inputing the formula for transparent aluminum, and potentially altering his own future.

How quaint indeed! The anachronism is already here, 270 years early.


Rather than Apes: “Planet of the Mice”?

Because it’s a totally good idea, and science fiction has never suggested that we need to worry about genetically-engineered mice with human brain genes. I can’t wait for Phase 2, when the super-smart rodents are given cobra genes for venom and eagle genes for flight and talons. And, I’m really looking forward to more of this in real life:


Only the Litany of Falsity says “The Church is Anti-Science”

The claim that the Church is opposed to scientific study is one of the more, ahem, ignorant of all the claims made against Her.

Holy Mother Church is the progenitor of the university system and the scientific method. Do you know any other churches that fund a team of astronomers and maintain a planetary observatory? Let me know if you do.

So when the Church states that something like embryonic stem cell research is a bad thing, it’s really poor form (i.e., makes you look stupid indeed) to suggest that it’s because the Church is anti-science, against technological progress.

Rather, embryonic stem cell research is bad because scientific study (and Divine Revelation) establishes that an embryo is an unborn individual of the human race, and therefore shares in the human dignity that we all have.

We don’t kill people in order to conduct experiments on them. Destroying an embryo to collect its cells is no different (morally speaking) than forcibly taking all the organs from an unwilling donor.

And, let’s not forget that embryonic stem cell research has yet to deliver on any of things it has promised.

In contrast, the Vatican recently honored Professor Silviu Itescu with the “Key Innovator Award” from the Pontifical Council for Culture for “his leadership and ingenuity in translational science and clinical medicine in the field of adult stem cell therapy.” Professor Itescu is on the brink of “producing a therapy to treat congestive heart failure – the biggest killer in the industrialised world,” that will not require any surgery.

Scotty! Aye, Sir? Warp Speed!

Back CameraNo, we haven’t made it to First Contact yet, but NASA now has an “impossible engine” that requires no propellant, can be powered with solar panels, and involves “bouncing microwaves around in a closed chamber.” Here’s a summary:

“Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.”

“Quantum vacuum virtual plasma” is a term that definitely causes the inner geek to stir. It’s a great time to be alive!