Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Better Design for Government.

Currently all the tax revenue that the federal government raises goes directly into the general fund.  Congress then allocates funds from this huge pool of money to all of its many programs.  This means there is no connection between how money is raised and how that money is spent.  And no guarantee that the money raised for a specific purpose is spent on that purpose.

We as a nation raised trillions of dollars in tax revenues from the taxes on gas at the pump, but very little of that money was spent to maintain the roads and bridges of this country for decades.

The money raised was not spend on roads.  Changing gears a little bit, can you imagine if the Post Office was ran like road construction in the USA?  Congress would raise money with a tax on everyone, on the off chance  that you might want to someday mail several thousand pieces of mail.  Then that money could be put into the general fund to be spent on anything the politician wanted to spend that money.  Later when you wanted to mail a letter for free it would be thrown on top of the pile of letters that there was no money to ship.

For the most part, I see the Post Office as a governmental system that works. It has its own budget and it raises money to cover its own running costs from the people who use the service.  Nobody is forced to use the Post Office. The only monopoly given to the Post Office is for first class mail delivery, but it came with the requirement that the Post Office deliver mail to everyone in the USA, no matter how remote they live.

We could set up a similar system for America’s roads and bridges.  An independent federal agency that just polices 50 separate independent state programs would ensure that the money raised by taxes on fuel are used to fund road and bridge construction and maintenance.   And fuel costs are a very good way to apply a usage tax on vehicles.  The heavier a vehicle is, the more fuel it uses to move down the road.   Such a system could totally eliminate the need for toll roads or bridges.  You pay your toll when you pay for gas.

This same design should be used for all the important tasks we need our government to reliably accomplish. Health care insurance, retirement insurance , and air safety are all too important to leave to all too human politicians.   Each of these areas could be spun out of the general fund into independent agencies.  

Agencies funded by the people who use the service would ensure that the money raised would be spent on the services required by those customers.  This would reduce corruption and reduce expenses.  This would give us the level of government we want, make that service be offered with good customer service,  have a level of review that ensures a check and balance, and reduce costs.

Standard C Library for Linux, Part 01, file functions

C is a very small language.  This is a good thing.  C programmers will use nearly the entire C language every time they write a fair sized program.  The standard C library extends the functionality of C in a way that is predictable on multiple systems.  The library gives us tools like scanf() and printf() that make reading and writing formatted output much easier than working with blocks of characters using read() and write().  Also when you move from one C programming environment to another, the functionality of printf() will be the same.  You don't have to relearn how to print formatted output every time you change machines. In this series of articles I will discuss the tools that are available for the programmers in the standard C library.  At the end is a bibliography of the books and articles that I used to get this information.  I refer to these books and magazines on a daily basis when I program.  If you want to work as a C programmer I strongly recommend that you buy and read these books and magazines.

Many times the standard functions are overlooked and reinvented by programmers (including myself!) to do things like seeing if a character is a letter by:

            (c=>'a' || c<='z' && c=>'A' || c<='Z')

instead of using


The second form is much easier to read and figure out.  There is another reason to use the second form.  The first example only works for ASCII character sets, the second will work on _any_ machine.  If you want to write portable code (code that can be compiled and ran on any machine with very minor changes) then use the standard C library.

Several times in the past I have written code that took time to write and debug and interface to the rest of my program only to discover that there was already a function that did what I wanted to do.  A few months ago I was writing my own Multi User Dimension (MUD), based on a client/server article in Linux Journal, and I needed to process what the user had entered, one word at a time.  So I wrote my own string tokenizer.  Turns out I could have used the strtok() function to do almost the exact same thing.  And other people will know what the strtok() function does without having to decipher my code.

Make your life easier, use the standard C library.  It will also help all of us who try to update and maintain your code later.

The GNU compiler, gcc, comes with the GNU standard C library.  This compiler is one of the best in the world and the GNU standard C library conforms almost exactly to the standard.  In the places where the standard is imprecise, you can expect very reasonable behavior from both the compiler and the library.  I am going to discuss the GNU standard C library in these articles.

The <stdio.h> library handles the standard input and output functions for C programmers.  It is also by far the largest library.  Because the library is so large I am going to group the commands in these sections:  file operations, input and output.

Now before we talk about files we need to agree on the words that we are going to use.  In Linux a file or device is considered to be a stream of data.  This stream of data that is associated with a file or hardware device is accessed by your program opening the file or device.  Once the stream is opened then you can read and/or write to it.

Three streams are opened automatically when you execute a program.  Standard input (stdin), standard output (stdout), and standard error (stderr).  These can all be redirected by your shell when you run the program but normally stdin is your keyboard and stdout and stderr both go to your monitor.

After you are done with your streams you need to tell the operating system to clean up buffers and finish saving data to the devices.  You do this by closing the stream.  If you don't close your stream then it is possible to lose data.  stdin, stdout and stderr are all closed automatically the same way they are opened automatically.

One of the most important things to remember when dealing with devices and files is that you are dealing with the real world.  Don't assume that the function is going to work.  Evan something like printf can fail. Disks fill up or occasionally fail, users input the wrong data, processors get too busy, other programs have your files locked.  Murphy's Law is in full effect when it comes to computer systems. Every function that deals with the real world returns an error condition if the function failed.  Always check every return value and take the appropriate action when there is an error condition.  Exceptions are not errors unless they are handled badly. Exceptions are opportunities for extra computation (William Kahan, on exception handling.)

The first example is to basically show how to open a file for reading.  It just dumps a file called test in the current directory to the standard out.  All exceptions are reported to standard error and then program halted is with an error return.  It should produce an error if a file called test doesn't exist.


#include <stdio.h> /* this is a compiler directive that tells the

the compiler that you are going to be using

functions that are in the standard input /

output library


main (){

/* declare variables */

FILE *stream; /* need a pointer to FILE for the stream */

int buffer_character; /* need an int to hold a single character */

/* open the file called test for reading in the current directory */

stream = fopen("test", "r");

/* if the file wasn't opened correctly than the stream will be

equal to NULL. It is now customary to represent NULL by casting

the value of 0 to the correct type yourself rather than having the

compiler guess at the type of NULL to use.


if (stream == (FILE *)0) {

fprintf(stderr, "Error opening file (printed to standard error)\n");

exit (1);

} /* end if */

/* read and write the file one character at a time until you reach

end-of-file on either our file or output. If the EOF is on file_descriptor

then drop out of the while loop. if the end-of-file is on report write

errors to standard out and exit the program with an error condition


while ((buffer_character=getc(stream))!=EOF) {

/* write the character to standard out and check for errors */

if((putc(buffer_character, stdout)) == EOF) {

fprintf(stderr,"Error writing to standard out. (printed to standard error)\n");



} /* end if */

} /* end while */

/* close the file after you are done with it, if file doesn't close then report and exit */

if ((fclose(stream)) == EOF) {

fprintf(stderr,"Error closing stream. (printed to standard error)\n");


} /* end if */

/* report success back to environment */

return 0;

} /* end main*/
The above simple program is an example of  opening a file, reading the file, and then closing the file while also using stdout, and stderr.  I cut and pasted the code to a vi session and then saved, compiled, and ran the program.

What follows is a quick summary of the file operations in the <stdio.h> library.  These are the operations that work directly with streams.

Opening Streams

Before a stream can be used you must associate the stream with some device or file.  This is called opening the stream.  Your program is asking for permission from the operating system to read or write to a device.  If you have the correct permissions, the file exists or you can create the file and no-one else has the file locked then the operating system allows you to open the file and gives you back an object that is the stream.  Using this object you can read and write to the stream and when you are done you can close the stream.

Let me discribe the format of the descriptions that you will see here and in the man pages.  The first entry is the type that is returned by the function call.  The second part is the function name itself and the third part is the list of variable types that the function takes for arguments.

Looking at the first line below we see that the fopen function takes two pointers to strings, one is a path to a file and the other is the open mode of the program.  The function will return a pointer to FILE type which is a complex object that is defined in the <stdio.h> library. So in order to accept the return type you must have declared a variable of type pointer to FILE, like the stream variable in the example above on line 9.  On line 13 of the example you can see where I call the function fopen with the static filename of "test" and a mode of "r" and then accept the return value into the stream object.

A stream can be opened by any of these three functions:
    FILE   *fopen( char *path, char *mode)
    FILE  *fdopen( int fildes, char *mode)
    FILE *freopen( char *path, char *mode, FILE *stream)
char *path is a pointer to a string with the filename in it.

char *mode is the mode of opening the file (table follows.)

int fildes is a file descriptor which has already been opened and whose mode matches.
    You can get a file descriptor with the UNIX system function open.  Please note that a file descriptor is not a pointer to FILE.  You cannot close(stream), you must fclose(stream).  This is a very hard error to find if your compiler doesn't warn you about it.  If you are interested in Linux System calls type `man 2 intro`  for an introduction to the functions and what they do.
FILE *stream is an already existing stream.

These functions return a pointer to FILE type that represents the data stream or a NULL of type (FILE *)0 on any error condition.

fopen is used to open the given filename with the respective mode.  This is the function that is used the most to open files.

fdopen is used to assign a stream to a currently opened file descriptor.  The file descriptor mode and the fdopen mode must match.

freopen is normally used redirect stdin, stdout and stderr to file.  The stream that is given will be closed and a new stream opened to the given path with the given mode.

This table shows the modes and their results:
       open stream for  truncate create starting
mode   read    write    file     file   position
----   ----    -----    ----     ----   --------
"r"     y        n       n        n     beginning
"r+"    y        y       n        n     beginning
"w"     n        y       y        y     beginning
"w+"    y        y       y        y     beginning
"a"     n        y       n        y     end-of-file
"a+"    y        y       n        y     end-of-file
To read the first line, "r" will open a stream for read, the stream will not be opened for write, will not truncate the file to zero length, will not create the file if it doesn't already exist and will be positioned at the beginning of the stream.

Stream Flushing

Sometimes you want your program to ensure that what you have written to a file has actually gone to the disk and is not waiting in the buffer. Or you might want to throw out a lot of user input and get fresh input, for a game.  The following two functions are useful for emptying the streams buffers, though one just throws the data away while the other stores it safely on to the stream.

    int fflush(FILE *stream)
    int fpurge(FILE *stream)
FILE *stream is an already existing stream.

These functions return a 0 on success.  On a failure they return an EOF.

fflush is used to write out the buffers of the stream to a device or file.

fpurge is used to clear the buffers of unwritten or unread data that is in a buffer waiting.  I think of this as a destructive purge because it clears the read and write buffers by dumping the contents.

Closing Streams

When you are done with a stream you must clean up after your program.  When you close a stream the command ensures that the buffers are successfully written and that the stream is truly closed.  If you just exit a program without closing your files then more than likely the last few bytes that you wrote will be there.  But you won't know unless you check.  Also there is a limit to how many streams a single process can have open at one time. So if you keep on opening streams without closing the old streams you will use up system resources.  Only one command is used to close any stream.

    int fclose(FILE *stream)
FILE *stream is an already existing stream.

Returns a 0 on success, or an EOF otherwise.

fclose flushes the given streams buffers and then disassociates the stream from the pointer to FILE.

Renaming and Removing Files

These two commands work just like rm and mv, but without the options.  They are not recursive but your programs can be so watch that you don't accidentally build your own version of rm -rf / <<<by they way don't type this, it would delete your entire harddrive!!>>>

    int    remove(char *path)
    int    rename(char *oldpath, const char *newpath)
char *path, oldpath and newpath are all pointers to existing files.

Returns a 0 on success and a non-zero otherwise.

remove works just like rm to remove the file in the string pointed to by path.

rename works just like move to rename a file from oldpath to newpath, changing directories if need be.

Temporary Files

You can create your own temp files by using the following functions:

    FILE *tmpfile(void)
This command returns a pointer to a FILE of stream which is a temp file that magically goes away when your program is done running.  You never even know the files name.  If the function fails it returns a NULL pointer of type (FILE *)0.

    char  *tmpnam(char *string)
This function returns a filename in the tmp directory that is unique, or a NULL if there is an error.  Each additional call overrides the previous name so you must move the name somewhere else if you need to know the name after you open the file.

Stream Buffering

Normally a stream is block buffered, unless it is connected to a terminal like stdin or stdout.  In block buffered mode the stream reads ahead a set amount a and then gives you what the input that you ask for as you ask for it.  Sometimes you want this to be bigger or smaller to improve performance in some program.  The following four functions can be used to set the buffering type and the size of the buffers.  The defaults are normally pretty good so you shouldn't have to worry too much about these.

    int     setbuf( FILE *stream, char *buf);
    int  setbuffer( FILE *stream, char *buf, size_t size);
    int setlinebuf( FILE *stream);
    int    setvbuf( FILE *stream, char *buf, int mode , size_t size);
Where mode is one of the following:
    _IONBF unbuffered, output sent as soon as received.
    _IOLBF line buffered, output sent as soon as a newline is received.
    _IOFBF fully buffered, output isn't sent until size characters are received.

setbuf is an alias for     setvbuf(stream,  buf,  buf  ?  _IOFBF   :   _IONBF, BUFSIZ);

setbuffer is an alias for  setvbuf(stream,  buf,  buf  ?  _IOFBF   :   _IONBF, size);

setlinebuf is an alias for setvbuf(stream, (char *)NULL, _IOLBF, 0);
setvbuf sets a buffer for the given stream of size_t size and of buffer mode.

Stream Posistioning

Once you open a stream you are located at a certain postition depending on what mode you opened the stream in, as you read or write your position increases with each character.  You can see where you are at in the stream and jump to any position in the stream.  If you are writing a database program you don't want to have to read and ignore a million characters to get to the record that you want, you want to be able to jump right to the record and start reading.

Note that terminals cannot have their stream repositioned, only block devices (like hard drives) will allow this.

Also note that if you open a file for writing and use fseek to go out 10,000 bytes, write one character and then close the file that you will not have a file of 10,001 bytes.  The file will be much smaller.  This is called a sparse file.  If you move a sparse file using the mv command it will not change size because a mv is only a change to the directory structure, not the file.  If you cp or tar a sparse file then it will expand out to its true size.

    int   fseek( FILE *stream, long offset, int whence);
    long  ftell( FILE *stream);
    void rewind( FILE *stream);
    int fgetpos( FILE *stream, fpos_t *pos);
    int fsetpos( FILE *stream, fpos_t *pos);
FILE *stream is a pointer to an already existing stream.

long offset is added to the position indicated by the whence.

int whence is SEEK_SET, SEEK_CUR, or SEEK_END depending on where you want the offset to be applied to:  the beginning, the current position or the end.

fpos_t *pos is a complex file position indicator.  On some systems you must use this to get and set stream positions.
If these functions are successful fgetpos, fseek, fsetpos return  0,  and  ftell returns the current offset.  Otherwise, EOF is returned.  There is no return value from rewind.

fseek sets the file position in the stream to the value of offset plus the position indicated by the whence, either the begginning, the current or the end of file to get the new position in the stream.  This is useful for reading along, adding something to the end of the stream and then going back to reading the stream where you left off.

ftell returns the current position of the stream.

rewind sets the current position to the beginning of the stream.  Notice that no error code is returned.  This function is assumed to always suceed.

fgetpos is used like ftell to return the position of the stream.  The position is returned in the pos variable which is of type fpos_t.

fsetpos is used like fseek in that it will set the current postion of the stream to the value in pos.

On some systems you have to use fgetpos and fsetpos in order to reliably position your stream.

Error Codes

When any of the above functions return an error you can see what the error was and even get a text error message to display for the user.  There are a group of functions that deal with error values.  It is enough for now to be able to see that you have an errors and stop.

However, if you write a nice GUI word processor you don't want the program to stop everytime it can't open a file.  You want it to display the error message to the user and continue.  In a future article I will deal this error code functions, or someone else can summarize them for us and send in an article and some commented source code to show us how it's done.

If anyone is interested the functions are: clearerr, feof, ferror, and fileno.


Well that's enough for this month.  I have learned a lot and I hope you have as well.  Most of this information is available through man page system but the dates on these are 4 years old.  If anyone has updates on any of this information please send it to me and I will correct myself in further articles.

Next month I want to talk about input and output.  I will take the simple program above and add some functionallity to it to add a column of numbers and output the results to standard out.  Hopefully this example program can grow into something useful.


The ANSI C Programming Language, Second Edition, Brian W. Kernighan, Dennis M. Ritchie, Printice Hall Software Series, 1988 The Standard C Library, P. J. Plauger, Printice Hall P T R, 1992
The Standard C Library, Parts 1, 2, and 3, Chuck Allison, C/C++ Users Journal, January, February, March 1995
STDIO(3), BSD MANPAGE, Linux Programmer's Manual, 29 November 1993
Unidentified File Objects, Lisa Lees, Sys Admin, July/August 1995
A Conversation With William Kahan, Jack Woehr, Dr Dobb's Journal, November 1997
Java and Client-Server, Joe Novosel, Linux Journal, January 1997

Man's Duty to Protect Nature.

Nature is too beautiful to spoil for our own selfish ends.  There are few things as great as going for a walk along a cool, quiet country road early in the morning before it gets scorching hot.  You can look at the flowers and the wildlife, listen to the birds and the babbling brook, feel the cool air hit you as a breeze picks up, smell the heavenly scent of the wild flowers, feel the solid ground under your feet that gently accepts each step in a thick loam, and the warmth of the sun on your face as it filters through the mix of green leaves overhead.  The entire experience is real, it is what we evolved to experience on a day to day basis.

Contrast this with city life.  A constant white noise assault on your ears punctuated with the roar of a nearby bus, the scream of brakes, the squeal of a car accelerating like a puppy in agony, the stench of urine from the ugly grey parking structure, the fear that you are going to be assaulted, killed and robbed by one of the tens of thousands of people you are walking past, some of whom are obviously suffering from serious mental health issues, the stench of 100’s of culture’s food smells all mixing together in just a few city blocks, the sound of gunfire on the next street, people constantly screaming and yelling to each other to be heard over the roar of city life, every step on hard, unyielding, filthy concrete past store after store after store, all the same, yet different and almost none of them selling anything you really need.


You can have nature or you can have a job.  This is the false choice that the main stream media constantly pushes onto anyone who watches TV, reads the newspaper, or listens to the radio.  I not only reject this choice, but I make the claim that if you ruin nature then you will lose your job.

Don’t get me wrong;  Earning a living is important.  But having a job is not the most important thing.  There are many things more important than making a living.  Taking care of your family and your friends and yourself is more important than having a job.  I have never heard an old man tell me that he wished he had spent more time in the office, but I have heard many tell me that they wished they had spent more time with their family and with their friends.


Ask anyone what a kitchen is for and they will tell you that is where you cook your food.  But cleaning is just as important as cooking and also has to be done, even if nobody likes doing it.

If a guy in a fancy grey suit on TV told you that you don’t need to ever clean your dishes after you eat, just stack them in the corner and get new ones each time you would think that person was incorrect.   

What would you do if you had a house guest that was using up all your clean dishes and leaving the dirty dishes stacked in your sink and lining the counters and starting to stack up on the floors?  You would make them clean it up or toss them out.

This is what we are doing to the environment.  After we do a job we are leaving the dishes stacked up uncleaned for someone else to wash up later.

Companies need to learn how to do their own chores instead of leaving the clean up for someone else.

"The Big Lebowski" Analysis of Themes.

The Big Lebowski was released in 1998. The movie was written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. These two brothers had released Fargo to widespread acclaim just 2 years prior, but The Big Lebowski failed to achieve success in the theaters. Afterwards the movie slowly grew more and more popular as word of mouth spread about how great the movie truly was.

The movie had an all star cast, Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey Lebowski AKA The Dude, John Goodman as Walter Sobchak, Julianne Moore as Maude Lebowski, Steve Buscemi as 'Donny' Kerabatsos, David Huddleston as Jeffrey Lebowski AKA The Big Lebowski, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Brandt, and Tara Reid as Bunny Lebowski. (Internet Movie Database, tt0118715)

1998 was a strange time in America. The Internet bubble was still inflating but many people were warning of a coming collapse. Bill Clinton denied that he had sexual relations with “that woman.” Later that year he admits to having had relations. Europe agreed on the Euro as their single currency. In Yugoslavia a civil war was starting that would lead to tragic acts of genocide. Apple was coming back, releasing the iMac. Nasa probes were reaching out to the moons of Jupiter. (The People History, 1998)

The movie starts like a western. Sam Elliot is the narrator, an almost stereotypical western mentor. Later in the movie Elliot plays “The Stranger” during a couple mystical interludes. The Dude is independent and a wanderer, never settling down in one place. This lack of commitment is just like the cowboy in many westerns. The Dude only has a few treasured possessions, and one of those treasured possessions is his rug. That rug really tied the room together. The Dude is forced into action when the Nihilists defiles the rug, his only valuable possession. This is very similar to many westerns where the protagonist is forced into action by their own most cherished possessions being destroyed by Indians.

The movie is a hero's quest, with Dude trying to just get a new rug and go on with his life. The way that each reward in an act leads to ever increasing complications is comically exaggerated. The bowling alley is the central location in the quest. After nearly every major scene in the movie the three friends return to the bowling alley. Bowling is seen as a metaphor for life and death. The repetition of a bowling frame contrasted with the endless variation in outcome, along with the scoring of every roll is very similar to the day to day repetition and the scoring of all the important aspects of a person’s life; financial, social, scholastic.

The plot of the Big Leboswki quickly switches from a western to Film Noir after the first couple of scenes, becoming a detective story about violence, kidnapping, triple dealings, and a couple of Femme Fateles. The easy going, non violent, brightly attired Dude is in stark contrast to a Mickey Spillane. The sun drenched bright colored locations in LA are the complete opposite of the dark, dismal mood prevalent in Film Noir. Overall the situations in the movie and the clever dialog makes the movie a comedy. There are even a couple of musical scenes where the Dude flies and dances when he is unconscious and having some kind of out of body experiences.

The first person that acts as a mentor to the Dude is his best friend, Walter Sobchak, a burned out Vietnam Vet. The fact that a hippie like the Dude is best friends with a Vietnam Vet is another stark contrast in the movie. The only thing the Dude ever stood up against in his entire life was the Vietnam conflict and now his best friend is someone that can’t let that war go. Walter mentors the Dude about his rug, telling him that the real Lebowski should replace the Dude’s rug.

This quickly leads to the Dude meeting the “The Big Lebowski.” The rich person is a facade of a real person. Someone that pretends to be rich and, but the money that he appears to own is not his own. Much of the plot of the movie revolves around the Big Lebowski trying to own the money that people assume he owns. He doesn’t even really care that his young wife is kidnapped or not. She is just a status symbol that he uses to make himself appear more powerful than he really is.

Donnie is the third friend that hangs out with the Dude and Walter. He never seems to know what is going on and Walter repeatedly tells Donnie to shut up. What is strange is that Donnie only seems to exist at the bowling alley.  It is almost like he lives at there.  He is the only one of the three that is ever shown bowling. Later in the movie Donnie dies at the Bowling alley after being scared by Nihilists. Walter and the Dude are Donnie’s only friends, he doesn’t even have family to take care of his remains. His death allows Walter to let go of some of the horrible things that happened to him during war time and eventually brings Walter and the Dude closer as friends.

Another layer in the film is the time period the movie itself is set in. The movie is set just after Bush Senior’s invasion of the Middle East. The Hippie and the Vet are both now seemingly unconcerned about the larger events happening while they go about their day to day lives. During Vietnam both were deeply involved at the most basic levels of their life; the Dude to try to stop the war, and Walter to just survive it. Neither does anything to either help or hinder the current war that is happening in a desolate battle field on the other side of the world. This is almost a surrender to political realities and at a meta level is a demonstration of the surrender of Hollywood to corporate forces.

It is very difficult to choose just two scenes from The Big Lebowski to describe the movie. Every scene is almost iconic of the movies themes, visually appealing, and memorable. This results in an overload that takes a while to process after you watch the movie. The confusion of genres ( Comedy, Western, Film Noir, Musical, Action, and so on) in the movie disorients an audience, not allowing them to find a comfort zone of expectation in which to take refuge. This is why the movie failed at the box office. A single viewing of the movie just confuses most people. The same reason that caused the movie to fail in the box office is what is making it an underground cult classic as more and more people have time to watch it a few times and figure out the deeper meanings behind the film. To me the two scenes that best define the movie are the gun in the bowling alley scene and the scene where the Dude meets the powerful woman at her art studio.

The scene with the gun in the bowling alley is a metaphor for how society enforces the most trivial rules of the game of life. This self referential scene demonstrates how the bowling alley is used as a metaphor for life and death in the film. It is a recursive definition of life and death alternating between layers of reality and the movie, with no end and no beginning. Walter demands that his interpretation of the rules of bowling be followed exactly. When the other person disputes this interpretation Walter draws out a loaded handgun and threatens to end the life of the person opposing him stating, “This isn’t Vietnam, bowling has rules.” This is reminiscent of how easy it is to face the threat of gun violence from police or government forces if you have a valid disagreement with any aspect of modern government.

The power dynamic between men and women is represented in the interaction between the Dude and the two women in the movie. The first woman invites the Dude to have sex in exchange for money. The Dude refuses the offer, joking that he is going to look for an ATM. The other woman that the Dude meets is the daughter of the Big Lebowski. She is the real power in the movie, controlling a vast fortune. She wants nothing from the Dude except for his child, which the godlike narrator assures us is on the way in the last scene of the movie. The scene where this powerful woman is flying though the air naked over the Dude’s head, throwing paint on a canvas to make art is very much like their relationship. She flies past, each getting what they want from the encounter.


Internet Movie Database. “The Big Lebowski.” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118715/ Online. 1998.

The People History. “The Year 1998 From The People History” http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1998.html Online. 2004 - 2012.

I know now why the birds sing.

I opened my eyes, laying in bed, suddenly conscious again after a night of sleep. I never felt myself falling into sleep or waking back up. It was like a switch was flipped off the night before and then switched back on the next morning. Light was streaming through the window; morning was here. I stumbled out of bed and got dressed. As I get older it gets harder to move in the mornings. I stumbled down the stairs, walked through the living room and into the kitchen. I opened the right door of the fridge and took out a diet coke. I sat on a stool at the kitchen bar and popped open the diet coke. I slowly sipped the cold drink, not thinking yet. After I finished the soda pop I crushed the can and put it into the blue recycling box. The can rattled loudly as it joined its fallen brothers. 

I opened the door, walked out of the kitchen, closed the door behind me and stepped onto the porch. It was cool now, but the sun was already warm on my skin through the thinning fog. I knew it was going to be burning hot later. I picked up a green folding chair, walked down a short flight of wooden stairs, and stepped out into the yard. A heavy dew coated the bright green grass, soaking the front and sides of my shoes as I walked through the yard towards the field. The smell of the corn tassels in the garden filled the air as I walked past the garden and into the field. A trail lead down to the woods from the edge of the yard. I walked down the path towards the woods, each step softly jarring into the soft dirt of the path.

The grass was over my knees on each side of the path, and wild flowers of many colors and types were growing haphazard ever couple of feet through the huge field. A scent of grass and the bitter smell of wildflowers was present when the wind picked up a little bit. I sniffed in this weak scent like a dog sniffs the air.

I stepped into the woods and felt the cool dimness envelope me. The underbrush was thick at the edge of the woods, where the light could filter in, but rapidly diminished in just a few feet as I continued walking along the footpath. The birds were chirping loudly at the edge of the woods, happy to be alive. Happy to see another day. I could smell the moldering leaves from last fall as they deadened each step, crunching loudly in dry spots. The dampness of the air was cool to my skin.

I walked a minute longer, finding just the right spot. I unfolded the chair and set it under an ancient tree that has probably stood on that spot since before America was a country. It has branches like the trunks of trees, coming down to meet even larger branches that come down to meet an enormous trunk that must go down deep into the earth to the roots of the world. Its leaves fold out to guard this spot, a canopy a hundred feet across and a hundred feet high. Even at noon almost no sunlight reaches the ground here. Just the dim glow of green from 100 feet high. There is no underbrush and no small trees under its canopy. It stands like a god over a self made cathedral, more majestic in it's own way than the most noble of human creation.

I sit down and relax. The cloth chair strains and the metal frame gives a bit under my weight. Closing my eyes and breathing deeply of the sweet clean air. I let go of my worries and troubles. I let go of human concerns. I just let my mind float in quiet calmness. Like a pond in the quiet woods, untouched by ripples, its surface smooth as glass. Joy fills me. I know now why the birds sing.

After an uncounted time I got up, folded up the chair and went back to human concerns. But I carry a piece of that place with me forever.

Learning How to Write.

To this point of my life I was like many other people; just writing enough to get by, but not taking the time to write well. Lately I have become interested in learning how to write in order to communicate my ideas with other people. In order to write well I have to first learn the fundamentals of writing: mechanics, ideas, and audience.

The mechanics of writing are mainly important when they are lacking. When I am reading along and hit something that is jarring to my mind, such as the wrong or a misspelled word, poor grammar, or incorrect punctuation, it takes me out of the moment and forces me to translate what was meant to be said. When I am reading something that is mechanically well written it allows me to sink into the writing and let the ideas flow into my mind.

We all have flashes of insight or ideas that we wish to share with other people: our friends, our family, our teachers and classmates, and even to as many people as possible if we feel our message is important enough. These ideas are why I read and why I write. It helps to send the message to others by organizing the ideas and focusing the writing to just a single idea or to a group of related ideas.

By focusing my writing around a central core, it strengthens the writing and showcases my ideas. When I read something that resonates with me and makes me think of the ideas that the author presented to me for days after I have finished reading the book, I know that the author has succeeded in their attempt to share their ideas with me. But when I read something that just confuses me and at the end of the story I have no clue what the author was saying, then I know the author has failed.

If I don't "get" a particular piece of writing it may not be because it was poorly written, it may be that the author was writing for someone else other than me. The ideas have to be written to fit a specific audience. Who am I writing for? Am I trying to be funny, sarcastic, informative, or persuasive? If I am writing for a group of fellow nerds I can use in-jokes and terminology that they will understand. If I am writing for a group of “tweens” I can use “all the cool lingo” so I can appear to be “hip”. [Ha!] If I am aiming something at a set of customers of mine, I will try to be as specific as possible. The people who buy the metal art are a different group of people than would buy the industrial part fabrication services.

By using the proper mechanics, communicating interesting ideas effectively, and aiming my writing at a specific audience I will have succeeded as a writer. If I can’t communicate the ideas to others, for whatever reason, then the writing really has no point. If I can get all the parts to fit together smoothly I will have an effective piece of writing that will communicate my ideas. This is a process that will require a great deal of work on my part, but I am looking forward to the journey.

Improving Your Writing Technique.

Writing is something that you need to practice in order to get better,  just like any other skill you want to learn. If you want to get good at playing basketball you have to be out on the court every day shooting hoops.  This paper will discuss techniques you can use to practice your writing.

Just writing something everyday will help you build the skills you need to become a better writer.  Pick something that has touched you in some way today.  It could be something a friend said, something you read, something you saw when you were walking around, something you saw on TV or at a movie, or something you heard on the radio.  It was something you noticed that caused a reaction in you to what you perceived.  

When you notice that you had a reaction remember that moment and when you have some time, write down what you noticed, give details about where you were and what you were doing when you noticed the reaction.  What did you notice?  Why did it cause you to react the way you did? 

The Importance of Labs in Natural Science Classwork.

Natural science labs can show us that the science and mathematics we are learning in class have real world effects that go far beyond what you first imagine when you  begin taking the course. It's not just playing with numbers; you can model systems, predict values, and make real things work the first time, using what we are learning in college. A physics lab I recently completed made me realize just how important these labs are. 

The physics lab was a demonstration of opposing forces using three strings tied to a ring in the center, each string at different angles. We were given the force on one string and the three angle.  We had to calculate the force needed on the other two strings, then convert those forces into weights to place on the loops at the end of each string.

The math we used was just simple trigonometry, but I won't go into details on the mathematics. What was important was going through the process to find the weights to put onto the end of each string and then pulling the pin in the middle of the ring to see if they were balanced or not. If they were not balanced the ring would move towards the string with the greatest force and the weight could bang down, embarrassingly loud, onto the table. If the three forces were balanced the ring would stay in place.

There is a moment of tension once you are done and everything is set up.  The instructor slowly reaches out and pulls the pin.   Is the ring going to stay in place, or is it going to drop a weight onto the tabletop?  To see the ring stay in place with wildly different weights on the end of each of those three strings was amazing. You could have guessed and tried to balance the weights for hours before figuring it out by trial and error. To be able to work though a little bit of trig and algebra for a few minutes, followed by having the weights balance on the first try was really cool.  But I realized at that point that these labs are teaching much more than just a few equations. 

These labs are teaching us to have confidence in what we are learning. Not by taking anything on faith, or merely obeying the teachers authority, but by having us actually perform the experiments ourselves to prove that what we are learning works in the real world. Several groups of us in the lab worked the problems three times in a row with different values each time and every group balanced the forces, keeping the ring in place each time. When teachers and scientists talk about experiments being repeatable in the scientific method, they mean that different groups of us can prove that the formulas work by performing experiments. I'm not going into the scientific method in detail in this paper, but one of the cornerstones is that scientists are required to repeat experiments to prove they are true. I never thought that applied to me until now.

I felt like a scientist when the ring stayed in place.  My contribution is tiny at this point, but I now know that I am participating with millions of other humans in a great striving towards increasing our understanding of the universe. It is humbling to realize that every person performing a lab is replicating an experiment, even if it has been replicated a billion times before, they are all participating in the scientific method as a scientist. I realize that the scientific laws aren't laws because some old, epically bearded, dead dude says they are. They are laws because they are proven to be true by every person taking a science class.  They are laws because “I” proved that the formulas are real and the results are repeatable. 

Teachers tell us how important science is again and again in every course, but hearing something and knowing something are two different things. Everything they have been teaching me this quarter finally came together in a moment of wonder, when that ring stayed in place. To see mathematics actually reach out into the real world and to see the implications of how it ties into the scientific method was life changing.  This is what natural science labs are teaching at their core.

How big is the Universe?

Mankind has always had a drive to see what is on the other side of the hill. “To go where no man has gone before” (Roddenberry, 1964). How we perceive the Universe tells us as much about ourselves as the Universe. Our desire to explore, to know, and to understand is at the core of us as a species. Why study questions about the Earth, the Sun, and the Universe? What good does does it do for us? Hans Reichenbach explored these questions on the first few pages of his book, From Copernicus to Einstein. “We do not want to go blindly through the world. We desire more than a mere existence. We need these cosmic perspectives in order to be able to experience a feeling for our place in the world. The ultimate questions as to the meaning of our actions and as to the meaning of life in general tend to involve astronomical problems” (Reichbach, 1970, p. 11).

As we study the Universe, we study ourselves. This was talked about in Eugen Herringel’s book “Zen and the Art of Archery” where he said "In the case of archery, the hitter and the hit are no longer two opposing objects, but are one reality” (Herringel, 1971).

Literally, the biggest question we can ask is just how big is the Universe? As our understanding of the world we live in has grown, the scope of our ideas about the size of the Universe has grown. This paper will explore the ideas of the ancients, the Greeks, the Renaissance, and the modern era to try to come to some context of how the ideas of how  the Universe is has changed over time, and why those changes have been important.

Ancient people didn’t have books to read, or television to watch. They lived outside all day and night long. Once it got dark, they had nothing else to do but watch the skies. As the Sun set, the stars appeared to replace the blue sky, brightest stars first. These stars appeared to also rise in the east and set in the west. The Moon rose in the east and sat in the west. The evidence of their senses says that they were standing still, and that the sky holding the Sun and the stars wheeled overhead (Reichenbach, 1970, p. 13).  The circular motions and appearance of the heavens inspired the idea that the circle was the perfect shape.  This idea would be fundamental to astronomy for thousands of years.

The ancients decided, based on what they could see, that the entire Universe was a dome over a small piece of land. A blue dome and a clear dome with holes in it that allowed the heavens to shine through. The Sun, Moon, and planets all rested when you couldn’t see them. Everything had a spirit inside it that animated it and directed the object’s motion.  They thought that the Universe was small enough to walk to the edge, and unless you were very careful, you could fall off the edge into nothingness.

They noticed patterns in the sky repeating every day, every month, every year. They noticed patterns that repeated every 18 to 19 years when the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun came back into almost the same alignment (Armitage, 1947, p. 14-17). People used these patterns to know when to plant food, when to harvest, and how to travel across the expanses of wilderness that surrounded them. The civilizations that allowed people to study and learn about the Universe were more successful than civilizations that did not. With this knowledge came mastery over the physical world. Such knowledge became concentrated in a priest class of philosophers. “Egyptian astronomers had discovered that when the bright star Sirius could just be seen rising in the east before the Sun, the flooding of the Nile was imminent. Such knowledge gave tremendous power to the priesthood and inevitably involved its members closely with the state” (Shawl, Ashman, & Hufnagel, 2006, p. 84).

The Sumerians, and later the Babylonians, recorded very accurate observations about the positions and appearance of the stars, moon, Sun and planets. This information was transferred to the Greeks as scholars moved from the ruins of the Babylonian empire to the thriving Greek empire.

“They [the Babylonians] also took over the Sumerian number-system, a fact of great scientific importance, since this used a place-value notation, just as does our own system (unlike that of Roman numerals). The difference is that where we work to a scale of 10, they took a scale of 60” (Norton, 1995, p. 21).

This base 60 system is still in use today, in degrees of a circle, the minutes, hours, and seconds of the day, and the minutes and seconds of latitude and longitude (Norton, 1995, p. 21). Base 60 is convenient because it can be divided into 2,3,4,5,6, 10, 12, 15, 20, and 30 even sections. But the concept of a placeholder would be further developed in the middle east and come back to us at the end of the middle ages.

The Greeks added their own observations to the centuries of accumulated data and came up with the theory that the entire Universe spun in large spheres with the Earth the center of everything.   They calculated the distance to the Sun at greater than ten million miles and thought that the sphere containing the stars was even further away.   Twenty million miles across was the size of their Universe, a figure too vast to really understand.

This Geocentric view of the world was brought to major prominence in the world of a scholar named Ptolemy. His master work called “The Almagest” was the standard astronomy book from around 200 ad until the 14th century (Ptolemy, 160ad). The Ancient Greeks had a good idea that the world was round, even calculating its radius amazingly accurately with the tools they had at hand.  But even to the Greeks the thought that the Earth was moving was totally against reason.   Ptolemy argued against the Earth moving because the air and the birds would be stripped away from the Earth if the Earth were moving (Reihenbach, 1970, p. 15-16).

In 1901 an amazing device was found in the shallow waters of the Mediterranean. The finding was so incredible that it took almost a hundred years to be completely understood. It was a geared mechanism for predicting the motions of the Sun, moon, stars, and planets and could even predict the possibility of the occurrence of eclipses. “This finding is forcing historians to rethink a crucial period in the development of astronomy. It may well be that geared devices such as the Antikythera mechanism did not model the Greeks' geometric view of the cosmos after all. They inspired it” (Marchant, 2010).

The Greek clockwork view of the Sun, moon, and planetary motions were influenced by the devices they used to calculate the motions. If everything had a circular orbit around the Earth, then just simple gears could explain the motions. But they had to add extra gears to accurately model the motions of the planets and the Moon. These extra gears were called epicycles to explain the retrograde motions of some of the planets when the Earth was between the Sun and that planet. This clockwork view of the Universe would persist for over eighteen hundred years, only recently being overturned recently by fundamental quantum mechanical theories about how atoms work.

The knowledge to build such complicated devices faded from human ken, not to be rediscovered until the 18th century.  Any remaining devices were melted down for their metal during this time, destroying all evidence of the knowledge.  No significant advances in astronomy would be made for the next 13 centuries. The Greeks declined and the Romans took over the Mediterranean. Progress in science slowed until it was almost stopped and much accumulated knowledge was lost (Shawl et al., 2006, p. 84).

This was a period of time characterized by a failure of economic systems, combined with a complete certainty that those in power not only knew what was right, but that they were infallibly correct. To question the official policies on anything was to risk facing the Inquisition, where one could be made to see reason with the rack, or with burning hot iron implements.

After hundreds of years some areas began to do better and this growth in economics fueled a new interest in science and astronomy. There were “new worlds” full of gold and new amazing foods and spices that had been discovered; whoever could chart a course to these distant locations, in the largest ships the world had seen to this time, could be assured of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. This was the Renaissance.

A researcher we call Copernicus began to promote what is called the Heliocentric view of the Universe. This was where all the planets and the Earth rotated around the Sun. He was not the first to have this view, but the way he chose to ask the question led many others to consider his ideas (Armitage, 1947, p. 10). The very name of Copernicus now means a turning point in history. The work of Copernicus moved Earth from the center of the Universe, but it also moved man from the center of Earth. Man went from the center to being a speck on a speck (Reichenbach, 1970, p. 12). Copernicus required great independence of thought and great scientific knowledge to persuade his peers to accept his world view as true. Only and insight into a deeper understanding of nature lead him to discern these new approaches to reaching the truth (Reichenbach, 1970, p. 17).

At this time, a new number system came from the middle east, sweeping Europe and converting everyone over from Roman numerals to Arabic numerals. Astronomers led this change, because they had found the collected astronomical knowledge of the Sumerians, Babylonians, Greeks and Arabs preserved by the scholars in the Middle East. The knowledge of this superior system came with the information and was quickly adopted.  The Arabic number system is the number system we use to this very day.

Astronomy was useful in navigation, and navigation was very important to this resurgence of wealth and power. So astronomers lead this resurgence of science. Rich patrons built large, accurate devices capable of measuring the stars in one minute of arc, whereas the previous best was in degrees, a two order of magnitude improvement in the measuring of the locations of the stars and planets. One of these observatories was built and ran by a man named Brahe. His observations are at the limit that a human with superior eyesight can make with the naked eye. Kepler associated with Brahe in order to get access to the detailed, accurate observations the man had made over decades of painstaking work. After Brahe’s death Kepler took the work from Brahe’s heirs and used it for his own purposes (Shawl et al., 2006, p. 94).

Kepler tried again and again to match the predicted location with the actual observed data. But the measurements didn’t agree with the predicted values based on science that was known to be absolutely true at that time. This was not only bad from a theoretical standpoint, but the books of tables used for navigation were going out of date, and ships were ending up lost. This was costing wealthy men money.

Convinced that he was wrong, Kepler rechecked his calculations and tried to add in more and more epicycles to make the observations of the orbits match the predicted values. They always diverged. Finally, almost in desperation, convinced that he was wrong, Kepler threw away centuries of accumulated knowledge about epicenters and the celestial sphere and tried to calculate the orbits of the planets as if they occurred around the Sun. But the math was still wrong, the perfectly circular orbits around the Sun also did not agree with the predicted values. Circular orbits were based on the previous work of Copernicus. Even more desperate, Kepler took the step of assuming that the orbits were not circular. Instead they would be elliptical orbits around the Sun, with one focus at the Sun. An elliptical orbit is like a circle, but with two foci, instead of a single center like a circle. A circle can be thought of a special case of an ellipse with both foci at the center. I can’t emphasize enough about how huge a step this was. “At last after 8 years Kepler boldly rejected the hallowed idea that planetary motion must take place on circular paths, thus ending two millenia of tradition. He describes in his diaries the fear and trembling he suffered in his mind when he took this step” (Reichbach, 1970, p. 22).

The math finally worked out and the values that Kepler predicted matched with the accurate observations he had at his disposal. Kepler wrote letters to various people and his ideas spread to those in the small community of astronomers of his day, including Galileo.

The major problem with Kepler was that he was a mystic and many of his ideas were very far out and tended to drive people away from the truths he was pointing out, because he was also pointing out some wacky things that were obviously not real. A few of his many numerological ideas had merit and were called Kepler’s Three Laws. These formulas are still in use to this day and are taught in every introduction to Physics and Astronomy class. Later in his life Kepler wrote of his Three Laws: “At last I have found it, and my hopes and expectations are proven to be true that natural harmonies are present in the heavenly movements, both in their totality and in detail -- though not in a manner which I previously imagined, but in another, more perfect manner” (Reichenbach, 1970, p. 21).

Kepler and Galileo corresponded with each other and many other astronomers of their day and the basic consensus was that the Earth was a planet and all the planets orbited the Sun. Galileo was the first to point a telescope at Jupiter and had seen four moons orbiting the planet. This small system seemed to mirror the ideas of Copernicus, and Galileo supported the view that the planets went around the Sun in circular orbits (Drake, 1980, p. 43). Galileo did not invent the telescope, but he was the first to pioneer its use in astronomy. The telescope brought even more precision to astronomy than any previous method of observation, especially of the planets, and is the method we use to this very day (Reichenbach, 1970, p. 22). Galileo wrote to Kepler, “You would laugh if you could hear some of our most respected university philosophers trying to argue the new planets out of existence by mere logical arguments as if those were magical charms” (Reichenbach, 1970, p. 22).

Many people assume that Galileo got in trouble with the Inquisition because of his beliefs, but this was not true. What got him in trouble was the mocking attitude present in the letter to Kepler; an attitude apparent in a popular satirical book Galileo had published that mocked the established scientific views that the church held. Galileo had been told once before by the Inquisition not to publish such a book. The book was too much for the Inquisition and they called Galileo before them again. After being show the hot coals and pokers for his eyes if he should ever make a mistake again, Galileo was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. He was going blind because of his research on Sun spots. He was able to correspond with some of his astronomy friends, but he never published another book.

But the damage had already been done. The book Galileo had published, as well as the books several others also published, changed the public perception of Earth’s place in the Universe. We went from being the center of the Universe to just one of many planets circling the Sun.  This meant that the stars were now a vast distance away, so far away that even the distance of a half a year of Earth’s orbit would show a parallax shift.

Galileo once said “What has philosophy got to do with measuring anything?” (Drake, 1980, p. vi).  This shift from philosophy to science driving our view of the world was as huge a perceptual switch as the dethroning of our place in the Universe. More shifts were at hand in the lifetime of Galileo, less dramatic, but no less important. Newton was considered a great unifier because he pulled together all the theories of the day into a single set of basic laws. He extended the works of Kepler, Galileo and others, invented even better telescopes, and changed our world view of how gravity and momentum worked. He created three laws of motion that defined exactly how motion works and described the math that models how the planets circle the Sun and interact with each other. It was no longer magic, or spirits that moved things, but the force of gravity (Shawl et al., 2006, p. 99-105).

One of the many fields that Newton studied was light. He never succeeded in explaining how light worked, but he did set the stage for others to expand on his work. One of the reasons he invented the reflecting telescope was to compensate for the color fringes that occur in refracting telescopes.  These color fringes are actually caused by photons of light moving in waves and slowing down in the denser media at different rates depending on their frequency.  For several hundred years after Newton, people tried to understand how light worked.  This was not discovered for decades later when people began researching the rainbow that a prism makes.

Many people added bits and pieces and many theories were disproved. Ironically, the next level of understanding about our Universe came from looking at how the smallest parts of the atoms work: the electrons, protons, and neutrons. Everyone knows about Einstein's formula “E=mc squared”, but this was not the work he was recognized for with a Nobel prize. Einstein performed fundamental work to understand the photoelectric effect. This is the effect that allows solar cells to make electricity. This basic understanding is what allowed others to build on Einstein’s work to create the quantum mechanical theories. The atom bomb was built using the same theories that underlie solar panels (Niaz, Klassen, McMillan & Metz, 2010).

Around this time, astronomers were calculating the distance to the nearest stars and their speed. In 1929, a man named Edwin Hubble calculated the redshift and speed relative to the Earth of many stars, over a decade of observations. When he plotted the graphs out, he found that the further away something was, the faster it was moving away from us, or us away from it (Shawl et al., 2006, p. 615). If you calculate backwards, this means that everything would meet at a single point sometime in the past. This led to the development of the Big Bang theory, where we all came out of a single point (a singularity) and have been moving away every since. This set the age of the Universe to 10 Billion years and our distance from the center (Shawl et al., 2006, p. 617).

At this time we were also realizing that we were part of a larger collection of stars called a galaxy. Just like many of the galaxies we could see in the distance with our telescopes. And not the center of the galaxy even. Just a nondescript star circling out along one of the many arms.  We could see to the edge of our own galactic core around 30,000 light years away.  There were bright objects that appeared even further out.  Like a man in a foggy street, how far we could see appeared to be how big the Universe was.

Currently theory is racing ahead of popular beliefs about the world.  String theory and quantum mechanics is not easy to describe or understand. There are no simple formulas and no easy definitions. Instead of there just being three subatomic particles, suddenly there are dozens, each named strangely and with strange properties associated with them. Worse, these particles don’t move or appear like normal every objects seem to operate.  If you know where the object is, you don’t know how it is moving.  If you know how it is moving, you don’t know where it is.  Because of the confusion surrounding this new science and the esoteric research being done in this area nobody is famously associated with the development of the science. Einstein denied quantum theory to the end of his life, despite his work with its development, saying “God does not play dice” (Hawking, 2001, p. 24-26).

We know that we are currently in an expanding Universe based on Hubble’s red shift research. But would we eventually slow down and begin to fall back onto ourselves, ending in fire, in another big bang as we thought the Universe started? Or would we continue to expand forever, slowly drifting off, everything getting colder and slower and the Universe ending in ice? As we built better instruments and looked further away, we saw more and more galaxies, as many galaxies in the sky as stars in our galaxy. The better instruments we built, the further we could see and the further something is, the faster it is moving away from us. And the rate increases the further away we are. So it appears that we are accelerating faster and faster.   Given enough time the Universe is effectively infinite in size, according to the current theories.

But from where is this acceleration coming? Acceleration is caused by force being applied to mass, according to Newton’s Second Law. A search began for the source of this extra force that appeared to be accelerating everything away from everything else at an ever increasing rate. In checking their numbers it appeared that everything we saw weighed much more than we thought it should. There appeared to be a lot of “dark matter” that we cannot see. For every 17 kilograms of matter we can observe, there appeared to be 83 kilograms of dark matter that we cannot see. Nobody knows what this dark matter is, or where it is hiding. Theories abound. Any future theories about the size and shape of the Universe will have to account for this hidden mass ( Cho 2011).

Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” The more we know about ourselves, the more it tells us about the Universe. The more we know about the Universe, the more it tells us about ourselves. Socrates said, “The more I learn, the less I know that I know.” Right now, we are unsure about many things in the Universe. Just as we are unsure about our future on this planet. It seems that our culture is in just as much upheaval as our theories about the Universe.

I wish I could tell you that the Universe is a certain size. It seems that instead of making things simpler this paper has managed to just ask more difficult questions. Over the course of recorded history, lead by the breakthroughs of a handful of brilliant, determined people, we are finally in the position to at least know what questions to ask. It is a great time to be alive. Revolutionary work is going to be done in the most basic of sciences, changing our view of our place in the world several more times. Changing even the most basic understanding of the world, and of the stuff from which it is made. Everyone studying science is part of this great endeavor. Anyone of us could be the one that looks at some small discrepancy in a measurement and realize some new basic truth that changes humanities perception of the Universe.

A revolutionary understanding about the Universe and our place in it would give a new determination in going forth and beginning to finally live in this Universe that we have passively observed for so long. Just as the Wild West was settled by those that believed they had a manifest destiny, so would having a firm belief in ourselves finally allow us “To boldly go where no man has gone before” (Roddenberry, 1964).


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Cho, A. (2011) Curious Cosmic Speed-Up Nabs Nobel Prize. Science [serial online]. 7 October 2011;334(6052):30.
Drake, S. (1980) Galileo. Hill and Wang.
Hawking, S.W. (2001) The Universe in a nutshell. New York : Bantam Books.
Herringel, E. (1953) Zen in the Art of Archery. Pantheon Books.
Marchant, J. (2010) Ancient Astronomy: Mechanical Inspiration. Nature, 25 Nov 2010.
Niaz M., Klassen S., McMillan B. & Metz D. (2010). Reconstruction of the history of the photoelectric effect and its implications for general physics textbooks. Science Education [serial online]. September 2010;94(5):903-931.
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