July 2010

Quantum Mechanics

Quantum Mechanics: The Physics of the Microscopic World, by Benjamin Schumacher ★★★★
This was a hard series to rate, in that, while holding my interest, I fell asleep at the end of about all 24 of the lectures. Schumacher was not boring, so I couldn’t fault him. He also generated enough interest on my part to pull out some light reading books by Richard Feynman on Physics and enquire about more substantial quantum mechanics textbooks. He brought back memories of Physical Chemistry which I took for one year in college, in which we used the essentials of quantum mechanics quite heavily for our calculations, but of which the third term was spent doing simple solutions of the Schrödinger equation for the hydrogen atom. It seemed a little strange trying to teach quantum mechanics without mathematics. So, it ended up being more a “Quantum Mechanics for Psychology Majors” class, something which nobody could really take seriously. Dr. Schumacher covered the history of quantum mechanics, some of the basic ideas, and discussion of how quantum mechanics differs from how we see and experience the macroscopic world. I found the discussion of his work in quantum informatics to be most interesting. Should he edit this course for a new edition, I would like to see him a) include more mathematics, even if it is not totally understood, b) speak more about the history of quantum mechanics, especially in the most recent several decades, and c) include more discussion of sub-atomic work, such as quarks, muons, etc. and discuss how they tie into the quantum mechanics discussion, and d) discuss more fully how relativity and quantum mechanics conflicts and interacts in understanding the universe.

North Cascades Bicycling 26-29JUL2010

26JUL2010   Total travel time 2:49, 68 km, 120 m ascent, 2958 cal.
I finally have been able to break away for a week to do some cycle touring. Russ A and I were dropped off in Darrington by Lucas, who rode about 40 miles with us. We spent the first night in the park lawn of Newhalem, having grabbed dinner at the country store, which closes about 5 pm. We were able to order some cold sandwiches and even a beer. I was then able to finish Pat Buchanan’s book and finish writing a review for this book on Betsy’s iPad, which she so graciously let me borrow. I’m beginning to love these little devices, as they are perfect for travel since all I need is some word processing and an occasional Internet connection on WiFi. It is awesome at holding a charge. I thought that I’d never like the bugger, but I now prefer this over my laptop for travel, which is heavy, and energy monster, and not as versatile in many ways. I especially liked the iBooks option, which is a color improvement over the Kindle. The General (Pat C) had a Kindle on our ACA trip last year, and I was quite interested in its ability to provide the availability to multiple books.

27JUL2010   Time 8:40 distance 120.3 km 1594 m total ascent, 6680 cal
Today was a most challenging day. We started from Newhalem, WA, and rode to Winthrop. In the process, we needed to cross the North Cascades, and the pass is not an easy one. Actually, there are two passes, Rainy and then Washington Pass. After completing Rainy Pass on fully loaded touring bicycles, we were getting pretty beat. By the time we arrived in Winthrop, we were exhausted. It didn’t help that the last ten miles were greeted with a very strong headwind. Russ and I survived, especially owing to the spectacular scenery on the Passes. We might be invalids tomorrow!

28JUL2010   Time 3:11, distance 67 km, ascent 166 m, cal 2259
As one could see, today was an easy day. We needed it after yesterday, and today was also quite hot, especially in the afternoon. So, we rode from Winthrop to Pateros. I am now looking out on the Columbia River. We went swimming in the hotel pool to cool off, and am able to relax. We’ve encountered a number of foreign cyclists on the route who are hitting the North Cascades, and it is interesting how much this part of the world attracts everybody else, yet this is only the second time I’ve ever been across the North Cascades highway. The cycle ride itself was reasonably flat, but the heat was still oppressive, as we followed the course of the Methow River before it flows into the Columbia River at Pateros.

29JUL2010  Riding time 4:40 distance 93 km, ascent 381 m, 3250 cal.
Travel today was between Pateros and Wenatchee, WA. The route followed the Columbia River all the way, though it was rolling hills, some as much as a persistent (2-3km) 5% grade. We started at 6 am in the morning, but by 10 am the heat was already quite sweltering. I couldn’t have ridden too much longer today because of the heat. The morning was absolutely gorgeous with the sun glowing on the sides of the cliffs beside the Columbia River. We passed multiple fruit stands, affording us an opportunity to purchase fruit for the road. Peaches never tasted so good! Finally, in Wenatchee, we were able to catch the Trailway bus back to Tacoma. We wanted to take the train, but they would not allow us to check on our bicycles in Wenatchee, so, we took the bus. At first, Mr. Sourpuss at the checkout counter told us that we could not take our bicycles, but a very nice bus driver let us stick the bicycles In the luggage compartment anyway. So, it was a fantastic cycle trip with a fantastic friend.

I again did not take nearly enough photos. It isn’t much different from what I’ll need to do for further road trips except to get in better shape. I hope that the issue is simply that of being a novice in cycle touring, and the more I do cycle touring with friends, I’ll be able to plan better, and utilize the time to not force mileage, but to enjoy each mile ridden. This will take time and experience. Further mid-summer trips should be planned for the coast, and not in eastern/central Washington. Maybe we could do part of the Pacific Coast route next summer.

Bach Organ Works

Bach Organ Works, performed by Simon Preston ★★★★★
I was a little leery of getting yet another set of Bach Organ works since both the Peter Herford and Helmut Walcha sets are superb. Preston offers a change of venue, with many of the Bach pieces not performed in a perfectly traditional manner. Yet, the performances were entirely compelling and most interesting to listen to. Oftentimes, syncopation or variations in volume or tonal presentation made a completely different piece than is traditionally heard. This is a very worthy purchase for the Bach lover. Quite honestly, I think that Bach would approve entirely of this performance. Remember that Bach quite often re-worked the pieces of other composers in order to hear them in a fresh manner. These works are definitely fresh, and bring an intense amount of life and vitality to what might otherwise be considered fairly boring works.

Day of Reckoning

Pat Buchanan, Day of Reckoning ★★★★★
Buchanan, in his inimitable style, discusses the many things on his mind that he feels are wrong with America. His sweep of subjects is quite large, covering the destructive ideology of multiculturalism and racism, the loss of public morality, our inability to develop a clear policy toward immigrants that supports American interests, the serious trade imbalance in the name of “free markets”, the loss of America’s industrial base, American imperialism throughout the world, with disastrous consequences on our friends and dose who are not our enemies, specific foreign policy blunders also being mentioned, from our recent treatment of Russia and Iran, all attesting to a direction that very well will lead to the downfall of the USA. This book is a valuable book for those who regard America as home, and who choose not to expatriate. Highly recommended and an easy read.

Bicycle Riding in Eastern Washington

Bicycle riding in Eastern Washington, the Palouse-Dayton, Walla Walla Region 15-18JULY2010
Russ, Luke, and I as well as Peter decided to head off to Eastern Washington to do some cycle riding.

The above photo includes Pete, Howie, Jake, Lucas, and Russ standing in the Blue Mountains after visiting an old family hunting site.
We stayed with a relative of Russ, Howie, who has a cabin in the Blue Mountains of eastern Washington, next to his charming Bruder Jake.
Howie is on the left, Jake on the right. We did short and long rides each day. The weather was gorgeous, though a bit hot for my liking, being up to 33?. The Palouse contains not only the Blue Mountains but wheat fields as far as the eye could see. You can see our motley crew resting by a wheat field.

Each evening, we cooked up a meal, and Lucas would retreat to study. Study? My goodness, he has forgotten that he graduated from college!

Reality hit, and he had to pack off back home…
Total mileage was
15JUL 24.5 km, 414 m elevation gain
16JUL 120 km, 1173 m elevation gain
17JUL 95 km, 576 m elevation gain
18JUL 38 km, 325 m elevation gain

The End of Christianity

The End of Christianity, by Willian Dembski ★★★
The main title of this book is a bit deceptive, in that it fails to describe the nature of what the book is about. Indeed, the subtitle is a better explanation, in that it is Dembski’s attempt at theodicy, that is, an explanation as to why it is evil in the world. Dembski is best known for his work in intelligent design and has proven himself quite capable as a thinker in that regard. Regarding his theological ventures, he proves less adept. Dembski develops a rather rigid form of old-earth creationism in order to develop his theodicy thesis, though he admits that his theodicy would work regardless of whether one was old-earth or young-earth. Thus, it is strange that Dembski spends so much time arguing for an entirely evolutionary scheme to the “creation” of man, the final transformation of man from animal to human happening by God creating a garden in which two hominids (Adam and Eve)  enter and thus become human, after which they promptly sin. To explain death and evil before the garden of Eden and the fall, Dembski evokes the possibility of retroactive effects of the fall, acting on the created world long before the fall had ever taken place. To defend his position, Dembski develops at length the comparison of chronological and kairological time, chronological time being literal time as one would observe on a clock, and kairological time being logical time, time that occurs in the thought process that exists outside of clock-time.  This explains the whole of Genesis 1-11, in that no attempt is being made to demonstrate a scientific view of how the world and first civilizations were brought about. Unfortunately, Dembski’s approach is easily generalized to suggest a logical fuzziness to any of the factual statements of Scripture. I tend towards old-earth creationism but shudder when I see what Dembski wishes to do with old-earthism to accommodate science. Eventually, God must stick his finger into the world somewhere, whether it be the garden of Eden, or in simply making a man along with the models of prior biological entities that he has previously created. Worst, Dembski never really accomplishes an effective theodicy of explaining why God would allow evil, save for answers already given by theologians, that is, that in some way, a greater good would be seen coming out of the evil that exists. Better theodicy works exist. I reviewed one recently (Paul Helm, The Providence of God) that was superlative save for the difficulty in following the ramifications of Helm’s thinking. The End of Christianity ultimately does nothing but contribute to the confusion of our existence. It is an easy read, and thoughtful read, though not a terribly exciting or informative read.

Black Holes Explained

Black Holes Explained, by Alex Filippenko ★★★★★
This is a series of 12 one-half-hour lectures on black holes. Betsy and I had watched Filippenko’s Astronomy series previously and thoroughly enjoyed it. This short series was no exception. One cannot help but notice the enthusiasm that Filippenko has for the study of Astronomy. This series was a set of lectures as much on physics as on astronomy. The first few episodes detail the original idea of a black hole by a German physicist Schwartzschild made while he was on the eastern front during WWI, and follow it with the original descriptions of black holes and evidence for their existence. Since they are black holes, they cannot be directly seen, but only inferred. Filippenko keeps the number of physics equations to a minimum, yet later discussions on competing descriptions of black holes by the theory of relativity vs. quantum mechanics, the evaporation of black holes as described by Stephen Hawking, the possibility of mini-black holes, gravitational waves, and wormhole theory, all left one wondering as to the veracity of these claims. Since the Hadron collider at CERN and new space probes are intended to answer some of the questions of the nature of black holes, we have much to anticipate in the news as physics and astronomy work hand in hand to discover some of the “darker” secrets of the universe. Filippenko must have given us every possible joke about black holes ever written, and even demonstrated how he dressed up as a black hole every Halloween. Between his humor and compelling teaching style, this was a wonderful series to watch.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes, starring Klaus Kinski, directed by Werner Herzog ★★★★★
Herzog and Kinski made many films together, though they reportedly did not get along too well with each other. Most of their films will leave an overwhelming impression on you, and this film is no exception. Amazon reviewers either left it 5 stars or one star. I could argue both ways with this film. Kinski has to be one of the ugliest, brutish actors to ever hit the stage. It is amazing that he had such a beautiful daughter. His acting included almost no speech, and much of the movie is passed with silent imagery of soldiers marching through the Andes, or sailing down a tributary of the Amazon. Yet, the film tends to be very effective. It is quite a depressing film, where an expeditionary team of one of Pizarro’s army, attempting to find El Dorado, the city of Gold, ends up with mixed intentions and internal rivalry, ultimately leading to the destruction of the entire expedition. This is reportedly based on a true story, though I’m not certain as to its faithfulness to the historical narratives. The film was in German, though it is available in dubbed English, and could be enjoyed by American audiences. Don’t watch it as a film to lift your spirits. It won’t.

The Outer Limits

The Outer Limits TV series ★★★★
The Outer Limits, like The Twilight Zone, were the two serials that I remember as a child. Both of them tended to give me nightmares. They don’t seem to be too spooky anymore. Comparing the two series, I would say that the Outer Limits tended to be “scarier”, in that there were more scary monsters and creepy scenes. But after reviewing both series, I would say that the Twilight Zone had better episodes, tended to offer a clearer message with each episode, and had more compelling plots. Both series tended to repeat similar stories or themes, such as travel back in time, a monster appearing that either was actually benign, or that required uncanny skills to control or eliminate, or adventures of space travelers on another planet. Each episode of the Outer Limits was an hour-long, compared to the Twilight Zone where the episodes were 1/2 hour, with the exception of one year worth of episodes that ran for an hour. All in all, I enjoyed the Twilight Zone more but found both as interesting displays of quality television from years past.

Bangladesh 2010

07JUN2010 I’m currently sitting in the airport in Muscat, Oman. It is a very nice airport, and thankfully, all have been very helpful to me. I discovered only a few days before leaving that CheapOAir changed my reservations such that I was left with a 28-hour layover in Muscat, the thing that I dreaded most, being stuck in an airport for lengthy periods of time. There was no way that I could correct matters, though there was a glimmer of hope yesterday with Lufthansa suggesting that I could be bumped for a day, which would have left me a 4 hour rather than 28-hour layover. Oh well. The trip started in Seattle. The checkout person was German, so we did the entire exchange auf Deutsch. I was pleased to discover that I was also able to fare quite well in the Frankfurt Flughafen, my German ever so slowly improving, though mostly in interpretation, and not inability to communicate. I’ve been able to read two large books so far in my travel, well as study some German and Bengali. I sadly discovered that I left my light yellow rain jacket on the last airplane, but won’t discover until this evening whether it showed up in lost and found. The airport is quite fascinating, and am surprised at the amount of liquor that could be found here, even though it is a strict Muslim country. I’ll probably pick up some frankincense on my way back from Bangladesh. I wish that Betsy was with me. I miss her, even though she seems to be constantly anxious about any sort of imaginable trivia. I’ve seen only a few spooks so far, and most people seem to be dressed in Indian western dress. I am quite surprised at the prevalence of Western culture, and especially English, in remote parts of the world, such as here in Oman.  Watching Muslim and Hindu families come by, seeing people interact and converse, it amazes me that cultural differences are over-emphasized, and how similar the characteristics of all humankind tend to be.
08JUN2010 Finally in BD. Babil got me at the airport, and we went for lunch at a local Bangladeshi restaurant. I’m eating with my hands again! You don’t use a spoon and fork in BD but pick up your food with your hands. It was wonderful to see old friends here in Chabagong, including Steve K, Steve W., Jason & Anna, John Tripura, Poromil, Uttam, Sujan, and the Collins. They make the trip worth it! Please forgive me if I left your name out…
20JUN2010 A 12-day interlude is now noted. I have been quite busy at the hospital and enjoying my interactions. Like before, I have spent much of my free time either talking with friends (of whom are both Americans and Bangladeshis), or reading. A number of books have already been devoured. Several books will not be reported in my website for the sake of Christian charity. Dr. Lattin has also loaned me some old copies of First Things.  I find First Things quite fascinating with a mixture of feelings. About a 1/3 of the articles are delightful and of interest to me. They utilize English at its best, a subject which leaves me rather jealous, because, try as I may, I find it impossible to write well. Every time I re-read what I write, I find grammatical errors, confusing statements, inappropriate use of words, self-manufactured words, and other stupidities. Brother Dennis only points out the most glaring examples. Yet, while reading First Things, I am able to obtain a vicarious joy in the best use of the English language, and the thoughtfulness of the articles. I am less inclined to delight in First Things because of its replete Romish Catholicism, as well as its slightly too liberal stretch of “co-belligerency” to Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy, Judaism, etc. Yet, Neuhaus is a first-class writer and often strikes a chord of agreement with me that I am able to appreciate.  My time is also spent in reflecting on life in general. I miss Betsy tremendously. I do not feel complete without her. I’ve reflected much on the nature of missions, especially missions in a Muslim realm. Modern Western sympathies for Muslim culture and religion seem to lack an appreciation of the working of Muslims when found as the predominant cultural or religious group in a community. This has been seen by me both in BD as well as in Cameroon. It is a religion of slavery, joylessness, oppression. It offers minimal respect for women, disguising the depersonalization and subjugation of the female population all in the name of modesty. Yet, devout Muslim men seem to be the most lustful of all of God’s creatures, and the presence of a Burqua doesn’t quench their lusts. Generalizations tend to betray the large amount of quite decent living and courteous Muslim people that I’ve encountered, who have been most helpful in my travels. Like last time in BD, probably the hardest thing to endure is the persistent beggarliness of all Bangladeshis. It’s hard not to respond to that, though agreements with the mission to not give more than meager gifts to the natives must be observed. A typical BD native seems to view the missionary Christian as the equivalent of “wealth”, and I remain perplexed as to how to personally respond. I sometimes feel that my presence in BD is perhaps more a problem than good for the gospel.
27JUN2010 I have just finished my last day of call and will be wrapping things up this week. Call kept me up both nights, the first to do a D&C, and the next night to answer questions about a patient who decided to go into the dying mode. It is monsoon season, and rain occurs unlike anything in the Northwest. It will rain torrentially for about twenty minutes, and then it will be sunny. Rains occur about 2-3 times a day. I tried going out once in a downpour, with an umbrella and found that I was soaked from head to toe, as the rain falls horizontally with a small wind. You’re always given a minute or so premonition of coming rain, as the wind begins to blow. You don’t see dark storm clouds, just a wind. I’ve now met with all my friends on the hospital compound, and feel like I’ve been able to spend quality time with them. I haven’t taken enough photographs and will need to spend one last day running around with my camera. Nurul (his name sounds more like Noodle as the Bengalis do a different sort of “r”) will be taking me up to Chittagong. Meanwhile, only one thing is on the mind of most Bangladeshis—the World Cup in soccer. Oddly, the nation cheers for only two teams, Argentina and Brazil. It will be tragic when both of those teams lose.
02JULY2010 I’m now sitting at the airport in Chittagong. It’s the first time in ages that I’ve been able to access fast internet (and free, also!!!!). A few Taka and the airport assistant was able to shuttle me through to the head of the line and get me through without a problem. The airport scanner was broken, and so they quickly let me through when I told them that I was a daktar (doctor). The ride to the airport was with Nurul, who drove quite decently, and we arrived in generous time to catch the plane. Although Cameroon roads were the worst I’ve ever encountered, Bangladeshi roads are not exactly super-highways, and more than once, we almost hit a dog, rickshaw, and oncoming bus. I can’t believe that more accidents don’t happen in this country. Later… I’m now in the airport in Muscat, Oman, waiting for my Papa John’s pizza to cook. I happened to be the only white person on the plane from Chittagong to here, and it’s nice to see a few English-speaking people around. Bangladeshi behavior is close to hilarious. They are very pushy in line, always trying to get ahead of anybody else. Once the plane hit the ground, almost immediately, about half the passengers popped their seatbelts and were standing to fetch their overhead items. Strange. Papa Johns was quite good, not greasy, close to what one would eat at home. I ordered the super Papas, since they didn’t have the Arabian Always special. I presume it was halal. The checkout lady was in a black dress, not a full burqua, but had absolutely no personality; no smile, no regard for people, nothing.

Papa Johns in Muscat, Oman

Flowers of Bangladesh

Selling Jackfruit in Chabagong

John and Nimmi with hospital schematic

In the market with Sujan

I now think about the trip summary. I feel that it was a valuable trip, especially being able to meet old friends, and acquire new friends in Malumghat. I was able to give Steve K. free time to work on the design of the new hospital with the architect. I especially enjoyed meeting John M. and his wife Nimmi, who live in North Carolina, though they come from Chennai (formerly Madras) India. What did I forget? 1. Insect repellent. The last four days, the bedbugs came out, and I was covered head to toe. Interestingly, at the same time, I read recently that Abercrombie and Finch was closed in New York City because of bedbugs. Go figure. 2. Flashlight (headlamp) – the lights go out way too frequently, and I have to ride a very bumpy road on my bike at night to get to the hospital when on call. 3. Voltage converter/adapters- the only thing that wouldn’t work was my beard trimmer, but sticking a three-prong plug into the outlets provided tended to put a terrible strain on the plug. It would have been better to have an adapter.
I am considering a return in late January/early February 2011 with Betsy. If we go, I think I will try the oriental route, and maybe stay several days in Bangkok. Jason noted that the town was quite interesting, and fairly modern, worth a visit. We’ll see how the Lord leads.
So, as soon as we arrived home, Betsy and I went out to purchase a new vehicle. Diane needed our RAV4, and we sold it to her since we were considering a pickup. We ended up with a Toyota Tacoma.