Merry Newtonmas

Sir Isaac Newton was born on December 25, 1642.  Sworn as a justice of the peace, while Master and Warden of the Mint, Sir Isaac Newton circulated in disguise among criminals to pursue counterfeiters. 
The English crown turned to him to save the Royal Mint. Even when they were not corrupt – which they usually were – the Mint officials were unable to solve the basic problem of creating and maintaining a system of money that worked. A stern Protestant, deeply religious, and moralistic in the extreme, Newton cleared out the criminal element and gave England a reliable monetary system.
Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist by Thomas Levenson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009) is intended for a general readership, yet rests on an extraordinary foundation of careful scholarship.  Thomas Levenson teaches science journalism at MIT.  He has been granted several awards for his PBS documentaries. Levenson delivers to print the videographer’s impact of sight and sound.  You walk down the alleys and into the pubs where Isaac Newton investigated crimes against the Mint of which he served as warden and later master.
A History of Newtonmas

The origins of Newtonmas are murky at best. Michael E. Marotta, a technical writer in Austin, Texas, has sent Newtonmas cards for 30 years and remembers a radio commentary he gave in 1982 that highlighted the parallels between Newton and Jesus.

Zebrowski thought she invented Newtonmas, but was delighted to learn she had co-revelers when the Skeptics Society sent her a catalogue of “Newtonmas gifts” — books like The Believing Brain, How to Debate a Creationist and Why People Believe Weird Things.

“I just made it up back in the 1990s as a joke, just to promote items we were selling,” said Michael Shermer, executive director of the Skeptics Society, which aims to debunk supernatural and pseudoscientific claims. “Everybody was giving me a hard time for calling our party a Christmas party so I said, ‘Alright, I am calling it Newtonmas.'”

Matt Blum, who wrote about Newtonmas in a 2007 post on Wired magazine’s GeekDad blog, says his high school physics teacher marked Newton’s birthday with experiments and “physics carols.”

A 1892 issue of Nature magazine bestows the carol credit on some Victorian-era English scientists.

“At Christmas 1890, or Newtonmas 248, for the first time,” the Nature article reads, “the members of the Newtonkai, or Newton Association, met in the Physical Laboratory of the Imperial University, to hear each other talk, to distribute appropriate gifts, and to lengthen out the small hours with laughter and good cheer. The Society has no President: a portrait of the august Sir Isaac Newton presides over the scene.”

Newtonmas picked up momentum — in keeping with Newton’s Second Law of Motion, of course — in 2007, when the evolutionary biologist and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins championed it in a British magazine.

USA Today from December 16, 2011 here



Open Secrets

Cancelled postal envelopes showing dates of secret satellite launches.

Engineers celebrate their work.

Openness brings risk.  We all take the keys from the car and lock the doors when we leave it parked. While the need to secure our infrastructure is clear, it is more important to maintain, reward and enhance the creation and  transmission of information, money, goods, services, and people.
But for 100 years collectivists right and left declared that our open society would be easy to infiltrate and destroy. We’re here. The Nazis and Communists are gone. Today, the open society, the agora, is attacked by new enemies who fear knowledge.  In Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics Jane Jacobs identified the dichotomy between the commercial ethos and the guardian way. Secrecy is important to police forces, armies, charities, and socialist economies.  On the other hand, scientists, farmers, and merchants depend on open communication.
Read more here.


Precessions: October 22 to December 3, 2012

Redshirts: Expendables in Fact and Fiction.  As a security guard, I found Redshirts by John Scalzi (Tom Doherty Association, 2012), at once intriguing, humorous, insightful, and disappointing. Scalzi’s work is at once a parody and a tribute.  Just as Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is a Gothic novel about a girl deluded by Gothic novels, so, too, does Redshirtsincorporate all the important elements of classic Star Trek.  Real life redshirts include the private contractors who supplemented US military forces in Iraq during the Second Gulf War.  That story is harder to tell because nothing about it is amusing  (More here.)

Austin Winter BioBash, November 28, 2012.  About 150 of uscelebrated the history of life sciences here in Central Texas with a keynote address from Dr. Matt Winkler, the chairman and CEO of Asuragen.  He was followed by Dr. Paul Lammers chairman and CEO at Mirna Therapeutics. Our last contacts were a trio from the Austin Technology Incubutor: Mike A. Sandoval of the IC2 Institute, Dr. Lydia V. McClure, an Accenture Venture Partner with Texas Venture Labs at the McCombs School of Business, and Michael R. Pierce also an Accenture Venture Partner.  Earlier this year, the ATI announced the launch of two companies, Savara Pharmaceuticals, and Terapio, which markets the RPLI76 protein as a countermeasure to radiation exposure and chemical threats.  About 30 companies are now in the incubator, including Alafair Bioscience, Integrated Medical Systems, Inc., Admittance Technologies, and Xeris which makes ultra-low volume biopharmaceuticals in auto-injection pens. (More here.)

Where All the Children Are Above Average Growing Up Gifted (Seventh Edition) by Barbara Clark (Pearson 2008) is basically a textbook for teachers.  It also can serve parents, and perhaps gifteds, as an educated, intelligent mainstream guide. The basic flaw in her thinking is confusing a taxonomy with a remedy. Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them by David Anderegg (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin 2007) slays an array of little dragons that plague nerds.  Dr. Anderegg obviously is an advocate. At the same time, though, he also seeks to deconstruct the concept of “nerd.”  Make no mistake: it is a schoolyard insult. What happens if you give a thousand Motorola Zoom tablet PCs to Ethiopian kids who have never even seen a printed word? Within five months, they’ll start teaching themselves English while circumventing the security on your OS to customize settings and activate disabled hardware. Whoa. “Ethiopian kids hack OLPCs in 5 months with zero instruction”  (More here.)