Nova Ret 2020 Update #2

July 24, 2020

As of July 24 2020, there are more than 100 Nova Ret 2020 observations, most visual, with a handful of CCD submissions. Mine (visual) are shown in purple.

Most observers are from Brazil (10), then Bolivia and Australia (5 each), with one from Italy and South Africa.

The southerly declination of the target and comparison stars in Reticulum (almost -55o degrees) makes northern hemisphere observations difficult.

A linear fit shows an overall decline of around 0.17 magnitudes per day, but there’s a lot of spread in the data and novae are unpredictable.

Nova Ret 2020 Update

July 18, 2020

The sky was largely cloudy at 5:45 this morning but a short-lived clear patch permitted a quick observation. The nova’s magnitude was between the 4.6 and 5.0 comparison stars in Reticulum (X25537DR chart), so around magnitude 4.8.

The AAVSO alert notice was issued a couple of days ago.

In my last post, I included a Stellarium screenshot of the field around the nova and Reticulum. Here’s a couple more for better context:

An hour later, I took another quick shot of the dawn NE sky showing the Moon, Venus and cloud (0.6 sec, ISO 200, f 2.0, unprocessed):

Nova in Reticulum!

July 17, 2020

Rob McNaught at Siding Spring, Coonabarabran, NSW found a magnitude 5.3 object in the constellation Reticulum on July 15 2020.

MGAB-V207’s pre-brightening magnitude was 15.8 (Johnson V). Just before I wrote this, it was designated N Ret 2020 in VSX and the AAVSO International Database.

I observed the nova at around 5:30am this morning (July 17) in 7×50 binoculars. My estimate, based upon 4.95 and 5.45 visual magnitude comparison stars, was 5.2.

It may have been brighter but that was my best estimate, given the seeing quality at the time, and a lack of coffee. Having said that, I’m confident that it was reasonable.

At the time of my submission to AAVSO this morning, there were 6 observations, including mine. Andrew Pearce in WA submitted his second observation (brighter) soon after mine.

This is the first bright nova since 2018! So I’m a little bit excited.

To get familiar with the field, I started with Stellarium:

and this AAVSO finder chart, which needs to be rotated by about 45 degrees anti-clockwise to match the Stellarium view:

In general, the sky was lovely this morning. After estimating the nova’s brightness, when the dawn became evident, I took this quick shot of a conjunction of the crescent Moon, Venus, and Aldebaran (alpha Tauri) low in the NE sky (1/5 sec, ISO 200, f 2.0, unprocessed) with our recently pruned walnut tree (thanks Karen!) visible at upper right:

Between the nova, satellites passing through my binocular field while observing it and the stars of Reticulum, a stray meteor, the Luna-Venus-Aldebaran conjunction, Orion rising in the east, and the general beauty of the sky, it was an uplifting start to the day.

I was again reminded that there is a hidden sky, waiting for all to see.

Variable stars and novae in particular, always reinforce to me the dynamic, constantly changing universe of which we are a small part. In what often feels like a dystopian world, especially in 2020, I find it oddly comforting that the Universe just keeps doing its thing, irrespective of us. Astronomy is a great way to get some perspective.

A quarter century of Java

July 4, 2020

We are all natives now, and everybody else not immediately one of us is an exotic. What looked once to be a matter of finding out whether savages could distinguish fact from fancy now looks to be a matter of finding out how others, across the sea or down the corridor, organise their significative world. (Clifford Geertz)

The Java Programming Language turned 25 years old on May 23 2020.

I’ve been writing Java code for 24 years, since 1996.

When Java arrived on the scene, my languages of choice were C, C++ and Perl, but mostly the first and last.

For me, there were at first various BASIC dialects, with smatterings of assembly code. Then at university and just at the moment I thought I knew something about programming, I learned Pascal, C and Fortran.

Later, languages such as LISP, Prolog, ML, CLIPS, SQL, even COBOL (about which I really never could find anything to like) showed me different ways in which a computer could be programmed.

Programming paradigms and language translation (compilers, interpreters) have interested me since around 1989. I wrote the ACE BASIC compiler in C from 1991 to 1996.

I’ve since designed and implemented other programming languages, including LittleLisp for the Newton PDA, and others that were only ever experiments, most personal projects, one commercial. In recent times I’ve been developing a domain specific functional language called VeLa that I’ll write about some time.

From the start, Java made it possible to write cross-platform programs, with or without GUIs, with relative ease.

Its byte-code compilation model resonated with me after having written my first compiler for a subset of Pascal in 1989 that generated USCD p-codes.

In 2004, six years after Java was released, Java 5 brought generics, regular expressions and assertions. I had craved these, especially the first two, for years, since writing C++ and Perl code in the early to mid-90s.

Java’s history is something of a long strange trip: from set-top boxes to web applets, the desktop, enterprise frameworks, smart cards and other embedded devices, to Just In Time compilation and dynamic profiling, WebStart and security model criticisms, and from Sun Microsystems to Oracle.

C# learned from Java’s mistakes. Some of its proponents have not always seemed to me to be honest about acknowledging its heritage though.

Programming Languages are tools for thought, for human communication, and not merely a means by which to bend a machine to our will. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, they can also determine what it is possible for us to think.

My working days are now dominated by R, Python, C++ and sometimes Fortran; and bash of course. R and Python are powerful and have a rich ecosystem of tools and libraries, but I’m no fan of dynamic typing which makes it easy to get started, yet leaves too much unsaid, too many possibilities for error. This problem only becomes worse as programs grow.

Rust, Julia, Go, Clojure, Swift are all contenders to the throne now too. Which of these will stand the test of time? Which will one day be considered to have legacy code bases, just like Java, C, C++, Fortran, COBOL? All of them, I would say.

Then there are those languages like Haskell that blaze trails but tend not to be dominant. Java and most of the current crop owe such languages a debt of gratitude as functional programming’s higher order functions, type inference, and immutability have come out of academia to take over the world.

Distinguishing fact from fancy, fashion from solid ground, making predictions about the future of the programming language landscape is no easy task.

The older I get, the more selective I become about what new languages and frameworks to learn and the more interested I am in as much static typing, type inference, and run-time efficiency as I can get my hands on.

Yet, after a quarter century, I still like to code in Java whenever I can. It has its own beauty. I don’t pay much attention to its detractors. Of course, that’s where it’s important to think about context. If I’m writing code for a tiny embedded system or want to squeeze the most out of a machine, I’m more likely to code in C or C++ than anything else. But if I want to build a big habitable castle in the sky, I’ll still choose Java when I can.

Yuck, that’s not meat!

May 24, 2020

A 2019 New Idea article complains that customers of some Australian supermarket chains have been “falling into the trap” of buying what they thought were meat products, only to find when they get home that they purchased plant-based products instead.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Many have been left infuriated by what has been called ‘misleading’ product packaging when it comes to vegan ‘meat’ products.

“Infuriated”?

Is that really appropriate an appropriate emotion here?

Ooh, it’s plants! Can’t possibly eat those!

Yuck, I bought these, I didn’t realise they were meat free, they have been sat in the freezer ever since”, said one disgruntled shopper.

Yuck? Did they consider trying the product?

…it’s not like the vegan meat is in its own section – at my local they’re mixed in amongst the proper meat. I keep buying it by accident, it’s driving me nuts. The other day I bought one that said meaty on it!

“Proper meat”?

Does the person quoted understand where “proper meat” actually comes from? Would they be willing to “process” it in order to have their meal?

And, until very recently, there was a distinctly separate meat section at major Australian supermarkets…

…where only those weird vegans went.

You know, the ones who just won’t shut the hell up about why everyone should go vegan?

So annoying…

This one I don’t understand: “I keep buying it by accident”?

Huh? How?

I accidentally bought these the other day thinking they were chicken, lol they do NOT taste like chicken, but the dogs seemed to enjoy them.

Wow. Lucky dog.

Sigh…

The items pictured in the article are clearly marked as Plant-Based, literally beyond meat in one case. Umm. Yuck?

How about trying them first? The products pictured are all high in protein, easy to cook and tasty.

We in the West are spoiled for choice by the range of products to choose from, but then, this post isn’t intended to be an advert.

The subject of what meat is, and its changing definition, is a rabbit hole for another time.

It’s worth noting that even the Medical Journal of Australia (that has influenced the Australian Dietary Guidelines) acknowledges that diets dominated by plant foods are likely the way of the future.

When something tastes as good as meat, is better for you, the environment and, obviously, the animals, isn’t it reasonable to at least give it a try?

Animalia Commonalis: Truth, Suffering and Ethics

April 19, 2020

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. (Galileo Galilei)

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. (Buddha)

The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable. (James A. Garfield)

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. (Arthur Schopenhauer)

Why do we want so desperately to know whether there is life elsewhere in the Universe when we treat so much human and non-human life on this planet with such disdain?

blue turtles on brown sand
Photo by Jolo Diaz on Pexels.com

I’ve written briefly here about what makes homo sapiens special.

We know that species other than ours exhibit some of these qualities:

  • Problem solving
  • Sophisticated memory
  • Ability to plan
  • Tool use
  • Culture
  • Ability to act contrary to instinctive behaviour
  • Belief in gods of one sort or another

As far as we know, the last item on the list is unique to us. This could mean either that there are gods of some kind or that we have a tendency to mistake certain types of patterns for gods.

What of the second to last? We are not purely instinctive creatures. Without that, we would never have developed Science, mathematics, technology.

But there exist humans with a severe mental handicap who cannot participate in anything approaching the “lofty intellectual heights”. Neither can young children.

For children, this is only transient you say. Rightly so. Children mature.

Not so for someone with a severe mental handicap.

Perhaps questions like “what makes us special?” or “what sets us apart from other animals?” are less than useful.

Perhaps it would be better to ask instead: What do we have in common?

Animalia Commonalis popped into my head when I was writing this post. By this latin-sounding (but not real) phrase, I was trying to capture this idea: The Commonality of Animals.

Of course, there’s a continuum of complexity of animal life starting from self-replicating molecules (RNA, DNA), to viruses, bacteria, fungi, insects, reptiles, fish, birds, and mammals like us.

Just limiting ourselves to mammals, all have:

  • A common body plan. Animals as diverse as whales and bats share the same basic skeletal structure and organs.
  • An apparent desire, or at least a strong instinct, to care for their young.
  • The ability to feel pain, to suffer.

The question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being? (Jeremy Bentham 1789, in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation)

Bentham said this more than 200 years ago!

Where on this continuum from viruses to us does the ability to suffer begin? Dogs don’t pass the mirror test whereas pigs do, but few would say that a dog cannot suffer.

Do bees feel pain or is the avoidance of harmful stimuli purely mechanical with no pain response? It seems that no-one really knows the answer yet.

I’ll be honest and say that right now I’m more concerned about dealing with the more obvious and well-documented suffering of mammals, birds, and fish by our hand. The “low hanging fruit”. Even choosing not to consume one of these groups is a big win at this point. The jury is still out for me regarding insects.

Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight. (Albert Schweitzer)

Whether starting from the idea that not consuming animal products may be healthier for us, from worrying about the environment and sustainability, or from a concern for the welfare of animals other than ourselves, one can eventually be led to the realisation that what we once did only to people taken out of Africa to America and to other “civilised” countries, we are now doing to other species, but worse.

The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men. (Leonardo da Vinci)

Speciesism is just a generalisation of racism beyond the borders of homo sapiens.

In my view, along with Climate Change, Speciesism is the defining issue of our time, and we will be judged by future generations on how we responded to both.

If Climate Change is an existential crisis, Speciesism can be thought of as a battle for the collective “soul” of homo sapiens.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated. (Mahatma Ghandi)

Vegan Vignette: Lions Though…

April 13, 2020

lion on green grass field

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The argument goes something like this. Lions (and other predators) hunt and kill prey.

While horrible for the prey, this is also natural. So, eating meat is natural.

This argument from nature is flawed.

A lion, and the scavengers that come after the hunter has killed its prey, waste little.

Lions act out of instinct. Much of what we humans do is contrary to our natural tendencies.

Most meat consumed by humans is cooked, not raw, as a lion would eat it. Further, there is some evolutionary evidence that we were never natural meat eaters.

While they may hunt in packs, lions don’t intensively factory farm their prey by the billions per year worldwide.

We bear the terrible burden of being free to choose and the only thing we are not free to choose is our freedom to choose. Especially those of us in the affluent west.

Cult of Stupidity: Naming Names

February 13, 2020

Grant Foster, as always, using clear, simple statistical arguments to show why those who say the data doesn’t support the warming trend are mistaken.

Open Mind

Jennifer Marohasy. Remember that name, especially if you’re Australian.

View original post 1,131 more words

On How Not to Protest (again)

January 19, 2020

Recently, Karen and I were waiting for a tram in Bourke Street to take us to a vegan pizzeria in Melbourne I’d heard good things about.

IMG_4752

Before the tram was able to come, hundreds of climate change protesters emerged. It was an unseasonably cold, wet day, as the picture suggests.

Now, as someone who in late 2019 attended a climate rally and a protest against oil and gas exploration in the Great Australian Bight, I’m broadly supportive of such public protests and marches.

However, there were a few problems with this one…

It seemed to Karen and I that the protesters were mostly preaching to the converted.

It took place in a street in which trams run. Trams. Not cars. Public transport.

Sure, not very efficient public transport given Victoria’s current reliance on coal for power (perhaps that was at least part of their point).

Why not march up a street where cars ran instead? They, at least, could have taken a different route. There was a police presence since this was a planned event, unlike another recent protest in Melbourne.

Yes, I know that disruption was probably part of the aim.

But the truth is that you don’t have to be completely disruptive to get attention like a two year old having a hissy fit.

Another problem was they appeared to circle around multiple times…

After the boredom set in, Karen and I got to wondering what a poll would show about just how seriously participants in the protest were about finding solutions to climate change.

Which of these people, we wondered, use vehicles (theirs or others) in a responsible way in order to minimise emissions?

Which of these people were vegan or at least made some significant attempt to reduce the consumption of animal products, given that the animal agriculture industry is responsible for a similar quantity of emissions as the whole of the transport sector.

Which of these people regularly waste food?

Which of them recycle? And so on…

Yet another problem was that at one point, the chants changed from being climate related to:

Always was, always will be, aboriginal Land

I encountered the same thing during the 2019 oil and gas exploration protest in Adelaide.

Now, no matter how sympathetic you are to the plight of aboriginal people in Australia (and there is good reason to be), how much you support the notion of land rights, or how positively you view the aboriginal people as good stewards of the Land, this is a problematic statement.

For one thing, it is astonishingly anthropocentric, the very thing that has gotten us into so much trouble with climate change.

For another, it’s a claim that can only have any validity for the last 60,000 years or thereabouts. Before that brief geological time span, the land “belonged” to other species.

Such a view may not be politically popular these days, especially with Australia/Invasion Day on January 26, but it has the distinct advantage of being true.

Of course, none of this excuses the terrible things done to the aboriginal people by our white settler ancestors and it is important to separate the massacres of two centuries ago from the broader historical place of homo sapiens, and the future of our species.

I’ve written more on this theme elsewhere. As I said there:

I’ve always found the Cosmic Calendar quite compelling. Popularised by Carl Sagan on Cosmos, the whole timescale of the universe is compressed into 12 months. Nothing remotely human begins until late morning on December 31. The original settlement of Australia by seafarers didn’t happen until 11:58pm and the last few thousand years of human history occupies the last 30 seconds of the day!

cosmos-04-hulu

Getting back to the chant… It was out of place in the context of this protest.

If you’re going to have a protest about climate change, stick to the point!

Don’t dilute the message!

Also, ensure that you are really making an attempt to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

We eventually got to that vegan pizzeria, but it was far enough that we caught a cab.

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I hate catching a cab if I don’t have to!

So, thanks for that (not).

On Being Special

January 19, 2020
sunset person love people
source: Josh Willink (pixels.com)

I’ve had some conversations in recent times that have ended in disagreement over the question of whether members of homo sapiens are more important or special than members of other animal species.

But what do we mean by special?

Relationships with other beings, human or non-human, make the participants special to one another.

Particular things about us make us special, e.g. tool use, intelligence, culture.

The holy books of some religions and other ideological traditions often claim that humans are special, perhaps even chosen in some way.

It’s important to distinguish between these different types of special-ness.

The first type is subjective and derives from a shared history, an emotional bond. For some people, the death of an animal can be as devastating as the loss of a relative or human friend to someone else. There’s no right or wrong in that. It just is.

The second type can be tested; other species use tools, have high intelligence and some may even have their own kind of culture (e.g. humpback whales).

Although a person of faith is unlikely to agree with this, the third type must be supported by evidence, and since, as Carl Sagan reminds us, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, this is a difficult requirement to meet.

Humans are meaning creators. Relationships are central to being human and meaning is often created in relationship with others; not always, but very often; some do choose to find meaning in solitude.

My father’s health was in decline late last year and more rapidly before my eyes in the first week of 2020. However, his death on January 7 2020 has not changed my view of the special-ness of homo sapiens relative to other species.

Dad was special to me because he was, well, my father. We had an emotional connection, a shared biological and social history, a relationship spanning more than 5 decades. I am in the process of mourning his loss. This does not necessarily imply that we or members of homo sapiens in general are special in any other sense.

We are free to choose who to become. If we are special in any sense, it is due to the responsibility we have to accept the human condition and to leave the world better than we found it, irrespective of the fact that we will not be around to see our legacy.

…but what is not possible is not to choose…if I do not choose, that is still a choice. (Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism)