If the bible is literally true then π is 3 and my odometer is wrong

March 29, 2008

“What is not possible is not to choose.” (Jean-Paul Sartre)

Consider the following:

  • “He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it.” (1 Kings 7:23). See also 2 Chronicles 4:2.
  • π is the ratio of the circumference (30 cubits) of a circle and its diameter (10 cubits).
  • ∴ π is 3.

Either the bible is literally true, and π is represented as the ratio of the two integers 30 and 10, or π is irrational with a value of around 3.1415926. We recently set up new odometers on our bikes. The manual for the device instructs the user to multiply the diameter of the bike’s wheel by 3.14, yielding the wheel’s circumference. So, for a 700 mm wheel, that’s about 2198 mm for a π of 3.14 and 2199 mm for a π of 3.1415926. But what if π is 3? That circumference becomes 2100 mm.

Now, for say 50 revolutions of the wheel:

  • for a circumference of 2.199 meters we have 109.95 meters (if π is 3.1415926);
  • for a circumference of 2.198 we have a 109.9 meters (if π is 3.14);
  • for a circumference of 2.1, we have 105 meters (if π is 3).

If π is 3, the wheel traverses almost 5 meters less. So is π 3?


Read more about the π saga than you probably want to in this Gospel of Reason blog entry and follow-up comments.

“It makes sense to revere the sun and stars, for we are their children.” (Carl Sagan)

Consider the following:

  • The world was made by God in 6 days (see Genesis), including all living things.
  • Massive stars exist for millions of years before exploding as supernovae, the only known means by which elements heavier than iron are created.
  • Our bodies contain elements heavier than iron, e.g. iodine.

Either the bible is literally true and the world and us (including heavier-than-iron elements) were really created in 6 days, or the universe really is old.


“What is not possible is not to choose.” (Jean-Paul Sartre)

Luna from Stockport, South Australia

May 4, 2007

I took this happy snap of the Moon on April 7 2007 from Stockport Observatory, South Australia. The image is unprocessed.

Luna, April 7 2007, Stockport, South Australia

I used a Pentax K100D Digital SLR and eyepiece projection via a Meade LX90 8″ Schmidt Cassegrain for 6/5 second, ISO 200.

Comet McNaught on January 23 2007

February 4, 2007

I took this image of Comet McNaught from the front of my house on January 23 2007 at about 9:30pm after just having returned from several days in Arkaroola (700 km NE of Adelaide). The orange hue is caused by a streetlight near my house. You can see the striations in the comet’s tail, material left behind as the comet passes through its orbit, away from the Sun. I used a Pentax K100D at ISO 800 for 30 seconds at f 4.5. Some star trailing is evident due to the length of the exposure. After some processing, I’ll also probably post images of the comet I took in Arkaroola.

Comet McNaught

Here’s a picture that shows the region surrounding the Arkaroola village, along with the village itself. Left of centre you can just spot the white speck of one of the observatory domes, just near the base of a hill that I and a few others spent an hour or so carefully ascending. There’s nothing much else around for many kilometres, but plenty of nature.

Arkaroola Village and Surrounds

Our group was stuck in Arkaroola an extra day due to heavy rains while we were there. Apparently decent rains in that region only occur on average once in 8 years. In any case, it gave us a further chance to explore more of this beautiful part of the Flinders Ranges. It’s a place I’ll want to go back to again.

On the importance of pure research

January 14, 2007

I recently finished reading the book Engines of Logic (2000) by Martin Davis (apparently published as The Universal Computer in some countries) of Davis-Putnam SAT-solver algorithm fame, a book about the origins of computer science from the viewpoint of the mathematicians who founded it, in particular: Leibniz, Boole, Frege, Cantor, Hilbert, Godel and Turing.

Leibniz had the notion that it ought to be possible to be able to write down ideas in a language (he called this a universal characteristic) such that “serious men of good will” could sit together to solve some problem by calculation using an algebra of logic he referred to as the calculus ratiocinator.

Despite attempts at such a language and algebra of logic by Leibniz, it was ultimately the work of his successors that gave rise to the logic that made automated computation possible.

Of Leibniz’s work Davis said that “What Leibniz has left us is his dream, but even this dream can fill us with admiration for the power of human speculative thought and serve as a yardstick for judging later developments.”

In the epilogue, Davis had this to say:

The Dukes of Hanover thought they knew what Leibniz should be doing with his time: working on their family history. Too often today, those who provide scientists with the resources necessary for their lives and work try to steer them in directions deemed most likely to provide quick results. This is not only likely to be futile in the short run, but more importantly, by discouraging investigations with no obvious immediate payoff, it shortchanges the future.

These days, universities and it seems, too many aspects of society are becoming shackled to the oft-times short sighted and petty expectations of business, as if it mattered as an end in itself. We would do well to pay attention to history.

On the subject of history, it occurs to me increasingly that most of what we study is in fact historical in nature. Incremental advances in computer science, software engineering,  astronomy, and Science in general are mere blips on the vast landscape of accumulated knowledge. When I read books such as Engines of Logic and The Art of Electronics, I am overwhelmed by the contributions of countless scientists and engineers over decades, to say nothing of the work of the founders of Science such as Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Einstein.

Rising beyond the mundane…

September 3, 2006

A conversation with my wife Karen tonight (in between parts of a Dr Who episode) reminded me of some quotes that mean a lot to me. Each speaks of rising above the mundane and the petty…

The effort to understand the Universe is one of the few things that lifts human life above the level of farce and gives it some of the grace of tragedy. (Steven Weinberg)

We make our world signficant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers. (Carl Sagan)

What I need to make up my mind about is what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every action…The vital thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die. Of what use would it be for me to discover a so-called objective truth…if it had no deeper significance for me and my life? (Soren Kierekgaard)

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away. (Thoreau)

Astronomy & Science Podcasts

August 27, 2006

Walking to and from the bus before and after work used to be lost time. The same was true for standing sardine-like on the bus. Assuming I can find a seat (less likely during peak times due to people apparently using their car less) I typically break out a journal such as Dr Dobbs or read a book, not so easy when walking, crossing roads or just trying to stand up in a moving vehicle. Enter podcasts…

If you have an Apple iPod+iTunes or some other MP3 player and appropriate software, you’ll find more podcasts (radio programs or Net-only “broadcasts”) than you can keep up with.

Here’s the Astronomy and Science related podcasts I currently listen to:

  1. The ABC Science Show
  2. Slacker Astronomy
  3. Berkeley Groks Science Show
  4. Planetary Radio from the Planetary Society
  5. Science Talk: The Podcast of Scientific American
  6. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Podcast
  7. New Scientist Podcast

On September 14, Slacker Astronomy split into Slackerpedia Galactica and AstronomyCast, since the original team seems to have split.

Although not strictly Science shows, three other relevant ABC Radio podcasts I listen to are:

  1. Ockham’s Razor
  2. All in the Mind (Psychology)
  3. The Philosopher’s Zone

These along with a bunch of programming and software engineering podcasts make otherwise dead walking time into productive ambulatory adventures.

Go to the ABC Radio National Podcast page for the ABC podcasts listed above.

Google will get you to the rest of the podcasts listed.

Finally, here is an article from the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers about astronomy and science podcasts, including some of those listed above.

About “Strange Quark’s”…

August 26, 2006

Thanks for visiting Strange Quark’s. In this first post I’ll tell you what I intend to write about and why I chose that name. In the late 80s I ran a “service” called Quark’s Cosmos on Australia’s Viatel, later called Discovery 40, pretty much the same as the UK Prestel (40 column teletext-style) system. The content of Quark’s Cosmos was focused upon astronomical and space mission news.

It was pre-Internet, so news items were distilled from traditional media along with regular snail mail from space agencies such as NASA, ESA, and occasionally NASDA (Japan) and the agencies of other countries such as Russian and India.

A highlight was that I was able to use the forum to provide up-to-date information about Neptune as seen through Voyager 2’s eyes in 1989 because of previous communications with the Tidbinbilla Deep Space Tracking Network near Canberra.

Quark’s Cosmos also had chat boards for these topics plus Sci-Fi and Philosophy along with running the odd astronomical quiz complete with prizes (books usually). Running Quark’s Cosmos was a labour of love and actually cost my wife and I money. Nevertheless, it was fun, rewarding, and appreciated by a lot of people.

With the advent of the Internet, Viatel and Quark’s Cosmos became less compelling. Competing with the richness of the Net became a zero sum game.

Much has changed in the last 20 years, but from a content and presentation perspective, systems like Viatel 40/Discovery and CompuServe were the ancestors of most of what we see on the Internet today. Long before Internet banking was available, Viatel had it for at least one large Australian bank. IRC, ICQ, blogs, all had some counterpart on these systems. The main difference is that the Internet is unbounded, unlike these older systems (and bulletin boards) hence the need for search engines.

I’ve been considering a blog for ages, and wanted to retain the “Quark” theme, but since I and the world in general are stranger than almost 20 years ago, Strange Quark’s place/blog seemed appropriate.

The main topics of interest to me these days are:

  1. Programming paradigms and languages
  2. Low-resource microcontrollers such as PIC, TI MSP430, AVR, 8051
  3. Amateur astronomy (generally sharing the night sky with others, planetary nebulae, the life & work of Johannes Kepler)
  4. Science Fiction books and movies
  5. Philosophy (in particular the Philosophy of Mind)

So, these are the topics I’ll mostly talk about. Anything else will be under clearly different categories. I’m doing this not because blogging is trendy but because I need a writing outlet, and believe I have some worthwhile things to share with others.

Finally, here’s a bit more general background about me:

  • I’m married (I mentioned Karen above) with a 6 year old son Nicholas and a 2 year old girl Heather.
  • I’m a professional developer having worked for Motorola, Freescale, the University of Tasmania, and ISPs (Vision Internet and Internode). Prior to that I was a nurse for the better part of a decade.
  • Several years ago I developed and released the ACE Basic compiler (Amiga) and LittleLisp interpreter (Apple Newton).

My long-standing and slightly antiquated website is at:


My email address is dbenn@computer.org

Stay tuned for more posts on topics such as:

  • Astronomy and Science podcasts
  • Web-based astronomy software under development
  • Java-based embedded systems
  • TI MSP430F20xx and PIC microcontrollers and rapid development
  • Reflections on personal loss (the odd one out, but something I need to write about).

That’s enough for a first post.