Sunday, July 31, 2022

How do you make God laugh?

How do you make God laugh?

Tell him your plans.


I have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer in some cells found in the bone marrow. It is not survivable. The best outcome is four relapses with increasingly aggressive responses for a survival of greater than five years. However, 46% of patients do not make it through six months. My oncologist’s best one-liner is “We will know more in four months.”


I had been planning to have prostate reduction surgery for over two years. In November 2019, my urologist suggested a less invasive procedure and he set me up with another urologist for a consultation. That specialist's plan was to insert glass beads into the artery feeding the prostate thus causing the prostate to stop growing. The treatment is popular in the national health care systems of the Mediterranean tier. (See below re Europe.) The problem is that beads get lost, flow elsewhere, and cause strokes and infarctions. Plus, the path in is not through the femoral artery but following the arteries in my arm through my chest and down into my prostate. It just did not seem like a good plan. So, it was back to square one. Then Covid-19 happened. 


So here I am 30 months later, vaccinated and boosted and ready for the surgeon. We discussed  laser ablation and laser cauterization and I tossed a coin. The urologist wanted to make sure that there was no cancer in the prostate right now. On 29 May I had an MRI scan. The prostate was good. However, the MRI revealed a problem with the bones of the hip (ilium). The MRI was followed by a computerized tomography (CT), previously known as computer-assisted tomography (CAT). The CT of 20 June revealed a “secondary malignant neoplasm of bone.” 


They said: “OSSEOUS STRUCTURES AND SOFT TISSUES: Multiple lytic lesions are scattered throughout the axial skeleton, the largest is expansile and in the right iliac bone measuring 8.7 x 3.4 cm. … Multiple scattered lytic lesions are seen throughout the axial skeleton, which are nonspecific, but suspicious for multiple myeloma or metastases.” And there were some other findings of lesser consequence (in my opinion). 


My urologist explained that I should read some reliable websites such as the Mayo Clinic, that the multiple myeloma is treated with monoclonal antibodies, after an immunomodulatory agent with a proteosome inhibitor. And he referred me to an oncologist and we met on 30 June.


The oncologist set me up for a sedated biopsy on 13 July.  On 20 July, I met again the oncologist to discuss the evaluation of the biopsy and the plan of treatment. (I was not in doubt about the need.) Fortunately, he has two area offices and one is within walking distance of my home. In fact, I was assured that I could walk myself in and back after each treatment session. 


But he was less than candid. 


Laurel said that they want to be positive and upbeat and therefore somewhat vague about the downsides because we all know that attitude is important to recovery. The fact is that he lied by withholding the truth. He told me that treatment will not require chemotherapy. It will be by monoclonal antibodies: two pills and a shot every 21 days for four months. In point of fact, the treatment is chemotherapy: Lenalidomide plus Bortezomib plus Dexamethasone. I will be nauseous and fatigued. I just will not lose my hair. I will be at risk for other infections, anemia, both bleeding and clotting, and neuropathy.


After the chemotherapy, assuming that I have responded well, then the monoclonal antibodies are injected in order to rebalance the antibodies created by the cells that are now overproductive.


“Antibodies are produced by B lymphocytes, each expressing only one class of light chain. Once set, light chain class remains fixed for the life of the B lymphocyte. In a healthy individual, the total kappa-to-lambda ratio is roughly 2:1 in serum (measuring intact whole antibodies) or 1:1.5 if measuring free light chains, with a highly divergent ratio indicative of neoplasm. -- )


It is scary when Wikipedia is more informative than your doctor. To be fair, he did draw a divergent Y with a little K and a little L (though he did not use the Greek letters).


For myself, I feel that I am behind the curve, trying to find what to read. The oncologist gave me about 100 pages from Wolters Kluwer update dot com website. All I have is the paper printout not access to the website because I am not a professional provider. So, I do a lot of flipping back and forth to find definitions. I asked for a second opinion and mentioned the “goat behind door number two” and he seemed to understand the allusion. He promised to follow up with the University of Texas Medical School. (I think that they graduated their first class just two years ago. I watched the new buildings go up. The last medical research I did in 2014 was at their so-called medical library wrapped around a spiral stairway inside the Texas Tower on campus.) Anyway, I have not heard back from that person. So, this weekend, I started from scratch and made appointments at M D Anderson.


I do not respond well be being addressed like a child. The reassuring singy-songy voice just brings out the worst in me and I still owe the nurse practitioner (MSN APRN FNP-C AOCNP) an apology. She called me back the other day with information that she forgot to give me when we met. She said that she did not know how she could have forgotten and I confess that I did not remind her of that moment. 

Europe: What a sense of humor. In most European nations, people my age do not get treatment for this. It is considered a normal end of life. How else do you provide free healthcare for everyone?




Bob Swanson and Genentech 

From Texas to the Moon with John Leonard Riddell 

Mayim Bialik 


Dishonest Scientists: Who is the Guardian? 

Tuesday, July 19, 2022


I accidentally borrowed the 2008 remake of The Andromeda Strain from our city library. Long ago, after seeing the 1970 movie, I read the book. I do not know whether to attribute the failings to the depths of postmodernism or shallows of popular culture. The remake was flawed on many levels but overall the writers were incapable of updating a story that was already modern 50 years ago. Perhaps the significant advance in our knowledge is the set of organic molecules--including amino acids--found in interstellar space.

Critics Consensus - Infected with an overloaded plot
and clunky techno-babble, The Andromeda Strain is a
remarkably dull mutation of its source material.

Chains of hydrocarbons are known in the Orion "Horsehead" Nebula (Barnard 33).  Many papers have been published about the hydrocarbon molecules detected there including propynyl (C3H2), ethynyl (C2H), and butadinyl (C4H). 

1970 Movie Poster

Even more interesting is the evidence that these short hydrocarbons are the result of ultraviolet radiation breaking down more complex polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) such as naphthalene (C10H8) and anthracene (C14H10), which we now know to be abundant in the universe.


BioBash: Chamber Replicates Success 


Monsters from the Id 

Teaching Science with Science Fiction 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

A Good Entry-Level Telescope

Keep the telescope. Throw away the mount and tripod. Keep the eyepieces as curios for historical reference. The average beginner telescope costs about $159 whether from Orion, Celestron, or Explore Scientific. For that money, 70% of the value is in the optical tube assembly (OTA: the telescope itself) another 20% is in the useless junk that goes with it and then 10% is lost to packaging, instructions, and perhaps extras such as star charts. So, what does it take to build a good entry-level telescope?


Start with the Mount.

Just as the scabbard called “Avalon” was more powerful than “Excalibur” (the blade it sheathed), the positioning mechanism (“mount”) is more important than the telescope. 


The best entry-level mount and tripod that I have is the Explore Scientific First Light Twilight Altitude-Azimuth with slow-motion controls. It costs $349.99. I use it for my ES 102-mm f/6.47 refract0r, my Astronomers Without Borders 130-mm Newtonian, and all of my 70-mm refractors. 


I found that the Orion VersaGo E-Series Altitude-Azimuth mount—rated for 11 lbs (5 kg)—is sufficient for the 70-mm refractors. It retails for $99.95 and is currently marked down from Orion at $89.99, which indicates to me that this will be discontinued. I bought four of them, one for each of the 70-mm scopes that I will sell and another for the one that I will keep. It also can carry the AWB 130mm Newtonian which weighs only 5 lbs (2.3 kg).

Orion VersaGo E-Series Mount is $100.

 It is not perfect. The gearing does have sloppy “backlash.” You have to turn the slow-motion controls several twists for them to engage in any direction. Even so, it is better than every other competitor. 


Previously reviewed here, 70-mm refractors from 
Bresser, Meade/Orion, and Celestron.

The original Meade alt-az mount did not work at all in left-right azimuth, no matter what the tensioning. The Bresser German Equatorial mount likewise failed to provide even crude adjustment. The Celestron movie camera pan-tilt mount was cheap plastic incapable of any smooth motion. So, for the money, the Orion VersaGo does let you have good control of the viewing field, left-right and up-down.

All Tubes are Created Equal.

Just as we are different individuals who are equal under law, so, too, are these telescopes somewhat different but essentially equivalent. The optics are a given. It is for this reason that Sky & Telescope's  Gary Seronik is a fan of cheap binoculars: the expense is in the gears, not the glass. (See Binocular Highlights reviewed here.)


The Celestron 70-mm AstroMaster has a longer focal length: 900 mm or a ratio of f/13. So, it offers more magnification with a given “eyepiece” (ocular). It is important not to be seduced by useless magnification advertised in bright colors on the box of a department store telescope. In her guide, Celestial Sampler, Sue French (a Sky & Telescope columnist), typically views with her 4-inch telescope at 47X. 


However 900/12.4 > 72 and 900/32 > 28 and a 2X Barlow will double the larger to modest but sufficient 144X. Those numbers are not importantly different from the magnifications of the competitors. 

The Orion and Bresser are both f/10 telescopes, focal lengths of 700 mm. And the oculars will render images at 56X and 21X (doubled to 113 and a convenient 43X). 


Moreover, with a refractor (though not with a Newtonian) you can place a 2X Barlow ahead of the diagonal rather than after it and in so doing enjoy a 3X magnification. Personally, I experienced that observing technique and it can be inspiring if not overly more informative. It does offer mid-range options for 65X or 84X. 

It is a simple fact that different objects viewed under different sky conditions will look somewhat better or worse for marginally more or less magnification. So, you want incremental arrangements.


Some Oculars are More Equal than Others.

The Bresser 70-mm Callisto comes with 25 mm and 9.7 mm Plössl oculars (“eyepieces”). These are standard, modern designs, two matched pairs of plano-concave lenses. For want of an umlaut, the name often appears as just Plossl or more correctly Ploessl. Even expensive, complex, computer-driven entry-level telescopes arrive with older ocular designs, called “Modified Achromatic” or “Ramsden Achromatic” or “Modified Kellner”, all of which are three-lens arrangements. The Celestron AstroMaster comes with two Kellner oculars, 20mm and 10mm. The Meade StarPro comes with three Kellner eyepieces, 26 mm, 9 mm, and 6.3 mm, and a 2X Barlow lens.

·       2020-December-6 Focus on Georg Simon Ploessl 


I found better “Super Plössl” eyepieces of focal lengths 32mm (GSO brand) and 12.4mm (Meade 4000 series) to add to the instrument packages. The advantages are better construction: metal barrels, not plastic, blackened inner tubes to eliminate stray reflections, better glass in the lenses and closer specifications in production. 

Better oculars sold by Astronomics (left) 
and Agena Astro Products (right).

Also, the longer focal lengths deliver better “eye relief” a measure of how near or far your own eye must be from the lens to get the best view. With cheaper, smaller lenses you must be uncomfortably close to the eyepiece, with a smaller cone of light, and it is like viewing Grand Canyon through a soda straw. With the wider view of better eye relief, you come close to that very rewarding “walk in space” experience when stargazing.


What Can You See With That?

It is an easy generality that most backyard stargazers make the famous “double double” of Epsilon Lyrae the gold standard for performance. I achieved that view with each of these. It depends on the “seeing” the quality of the sky, more than on the aperture of the objective or the magnification of the ocular. Given those parameters, each of these 70-mm refractors at their greatest magnifications will split all four stars into two binaries.


Of course, there is more to backyard stargazing than that. Double stars Albireo in Cygnus, Algieba in Leo, Zuben el Genubi in Libra, Graffias in Scorpius, open clusters like Messier 44 the Beehive, and globular clusters such as  Messier 13 in Hercules, as well as Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn and more are all available. 


I have been at this for a while, ever since being given my first (adult) telescope for my 65th birthday in 2014, a Celestron 130-mm Newtonian reflector on a German Equatorial Mount. I  used this blog to gather my thoughts, observations, theories, and opinions.


·       2019-December-14 Defending the Hobby-Killer Telescope 

·       2019-December-14 In Support of the Entry-Level Telescope 

·       2021-November-7 70-mm Shootout 

·       2022-May-22 Product Review: Bresser EQ3 and f/10 Refractor 


You can find other informed opinions. On the popular discussion boards (Cloudy Nights, Stargazers Lounge, Sky Searchers) every introduction in the Beginner’s Forum that asks “What Should I Buy?” receives an easy 12 to 20 opinions, sometimes running into lengthy arguments between aficionados. The highly regarded Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe  by Terence Dickinson (revised fourth edition, 2019) recommends a 6-inch Dobsonian as the ideal beginner scope. It offers a large aperture, is easy to collimate–align the mirrors; a requirement of frequent maintenance for any Newtonianand with a base of 25 lbs (11 kg) and a tube of 15 lbs is easy to carry in two pieces.

The true costs of a decent beginner telescope
(Don't forget shipping and taxes.)

That all being true, a smaller refractor comes to ambient temperature quicker than the tube of a Dobsonian. Until you reach temperature, you will be viewing through a column of shimmering air in the tube. Also, a larger aperture returns a worse view when the atmosphere itself is turbulent whereas a smaller diameter objective transmits a lower ratio of noise-to-signal.

A refractor requires no collimation. (At least, it is very infrequent and should be done by returning it to the seller for proper work). Also, the 1200 mm tube is a stretch if you want to collimate by looking into the alignment tool while adjusting the back screws. It is not clear to me what you do with the tube when it is not mounted. In other words, the refractors can be set on their Vixen bars without affecting the optics. Can you lay a Dobsonian on its side? You do not want to stand it on its mirror. If you stand it on the opening, is it stable? And once set up, how easy is it to move that 1200 mm (four feet long) 50 lbs tube on its box mount? 


Currently $460 from Astronomics, 
and several others.

I agree that the 6-inch Dobsonian is a great telescope, all in all. No telescope is perfect. I selected the 70-mm refractor for portability and range of targets based on frequent and easy backyard viewing. 



The Origins of Technical Writing 

Readability is the Only Metric 

Visualizing Complex Data 

An Objective Philosophy of Science 


Monday, July 4, 2022

You Have No Right ...

Following the logic of the U.S. Supreme Court in its recent “abortion” decision (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization), although you do have an explicit right to bear and keep arms, you have no implied right to a bulletproof vest. You have a First Amendment guarantee to publish whatever you want, but no implied right to read whatever you want. Because nothing in the Sixth or Seventh Amendments defines how many people are empaneled on a jury one person can be a jury. The list goes on.


These are among the many specious arguments put forward by the Court: 

The Constitution makes no express reference to a right to obtain an abortion, but several constitutional provisions have been offered as potential homes for an implicit constitutional right. Roe held that the abortion right is part of a right to privacy that springs from the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. See 410 U. S., at 152–153. The Casey Court grounded its decision solely on the theory that the right to obtain an abortion is part of the “liberty” protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Others have suggested that support can be found in the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, but that theory is squarely foreclosed by the Court’s precedents, which establish that a State’s regulation of abortion is not a sex-based classification and is thus not subject to the heightened scrutiny that applies to such classifications.


The Court finds that the right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and tradition. The underlying theory on which Casey rested—that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause provides substantive, as well as procedural, protection for “liberty”—has long been controversial.

The Court’s decisions have held that the Due Process Clause protects two categories of substantive rights—those rights guaranteed by the first eight Amendments to the Constitution and those rights deemed fundamental that are not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution.


Finally, the Court considers whether a right to obtain an abortion is part of a broader entrenched right that is supported by other precedents. The Court concludes the right to obtain an abortion cannot be justified as a component of such a right. Attempts to justify abortion through appeals to a broader right to autonomy and to define one’s “concept of existence” prove too much. Casey, 505 U. S., at 851. Those criteria, at a high level of generality, could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.

Syllabus, DOBBS v. JACKSON WOMEN’S HEALTH ORGANIZATION, No. 19–1392. Argued December 1, 2021—Decided June 24, 2022.

In the logic of the court, because extra-marital and non-marital relationships have no historic support in US law, they can be outlawed today (or tomorrow). By the last sentence above, the fact that a substance is ruled "illegal" by legislation closes your right to challenge that law. The justices of the Supreme Court may know prostitution when they see it. I am not sure how it is different from "dinner and a movie" -- or marriage. 


You have no right to leave the United States or to travel within them. 


Just as medical devices are regulated and their ownership, possession, and use are controlled by law, so, too can any instrument or tool be circumscribed: electrophoresis, polymerase chain reactions, spectroscopes, microscopes, telescopes, radios, televisions, … In fact, radios have almost 100 years of regulation around them and nothing in the Constitution or US history establishes your right to a radio (television, computer). 

Whether a computer is a “press” would be an argument before a Court that seems well disposed to limiting any claims not supported by explicit text in the original documents of 1789 or 1868. 

Can a state require the licensing of a musical instrument?  

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.



Passed by Congress June 13, 1866. Ratified July 9, 1868.

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The 14th Amendment notwithstanding, states had laws against marriages across racial lines.  (Personally, I find no scientific evidence for the existence of "race" as a characteristic of human beings. Most of the rest of the world seems to disagree with me.)

“The first ever anti-miscegenation law was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 1691, criminalizing interracial marriage. In a speech in Charleston, Illinois, in 1858, Abraham Lincoln stated, "I am not, nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people". By the late 1800s, 38 US states had anti-miscegenation statutes. By 1924, the ban on interracial marriage was still in force in 29 states. While interracial marriage had been legal in California since 1948, in 1957 actor Sammy Davis Jr. faced a backlash for his relationship with a white woman, actress Kim Novak. In 1958, Davis briefly married a black woman, actress and dancer Loray White, to protect himself from mob violence. 

“In 1958, officers in Virginia entered the home of Richard and Mildred Loving and dragged them out of bed for living together as an interracial couple, on the basis that "any white person intermarry with a colored person"— or vice versa—each party "shall be guilty of a felony" and face prison terms of five years. In 1967 the law was ruled unconstitutional (via the 14th Amendment adopted in 1868) by the U.S. Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia.”

In a statement of sheer ignorance, Vice President Kamala Harris told NPR: This [Dobbs v. Jackson] is the first time in the history of our country that the United States Supreme Court has taken a constitutional right that was recognized … (Interview with Asma Khalid 28 June 2022 here.) It absolutely was not. To be generous, let us allow that Vice President Harris misspoke.


It was the law of the land that no Asian could become a US citizen. That fact was cited by “the great dissenter” Justice John Marshall Harlan in his reply to the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling affirming racial segregation. Harlan noted that by law, an Asian, who could not become a citizen would be allowed to ride in a railway carriage with White people, though a Colored person, born here, an Army veteran, perhaps, could not. 

World War I US Army veteran Bhagat Thind Singh was denied his citizenship. The Court affirmed that racially, as an Aryan, Singh was “White” but that to the common man of America, he was an Asian and therefore ineligible for citizenship. 


In 1935, Jehovah’s Witness Christians in Minersville, Pennsylvania, refused to salute the flag in a pledge of allegiance ceremony. They were expelled from school. In 1940, the Supreme Court upheld the decision: Minersville School District v. Gobitis. Freedom of religion is not absolute, the Court said, but is subsidiary to the need for national unity and therefore national defense. That decision was overturned in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943). 

The fact remains - contrary to the opinion of the Vice President - that SCOTUS has taken away rights from people.

While the First Amendment promises freedom of religion, there is no explicit right to freedom from religion. While the Federal government is barred from establishing a national religion, states can and have (Massachusetts and Virginia) had their own government-supported churches. 


About 30 years ago, it occurred to me that if abortion takes a human life and is therefore murder, then a miscarriage must be manslaughter. I am pretty sure that I offered it as an argument to libertarians and progressives at social gatherings and was met with blank stares. It seems to have sunk in. (NPR here: Losing a pregnancy could land you in jail in post-Roe America.) You would have to prove that you were not negligent, that you obtained pre-natal care and followed the regimen prescribed for you. Absent that, you are negligent. 

I do not understand why "a State’s regulation of abortion is not a sex-based classification" except, perhaps, because men are also prohibited from terminating their pregnancies, just as the rich and poor alike are forbidden to sleep under bridges. 



The GOP as Pushy Beggars 

Tycoon Dough is Democratic 

Ayn Rand versus Conservatives 

The Science of Liberty

Crimes Against Logic: Exposing Bogus Arguments