Tuesday, May 23, 2017


NOSHA Meets in Remote Livingston Location to Learn About LIGO  

Dimples in Spacetime
Many, if not most of the advances in the discipline of science and its utilitarian child technology have come from man’s ability to devise new ways to observe, measure and record the physical world around him—and the worlds beyond his own.

At last count, there are five space observatories in Louisiana, all but one resemble the image most visualize when hearing the term, of an igloo- or dome-shaped building with a the barrel of a telescope jutting out at an angle. It works on the very old math of focal lengths and the craft of lens making. Thanks to this measuring stick (and Galileo, of course) we know that we are not at the center of our solar system, much less the universe.

The fifth space observatory is an example of a new way to observe nature. It was conceived, designed, and constructed for the purpose of observing, unlike telescopes, phenomena that are invisible. And not only invisible, but, at the time, were only known to exist as a necessary consequence of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. The phenomena are gravitational waves, the ripples in spacetime proposed by the theory that undulate outward from a large celestial events.

In April, about fifty NOSHA members went on a field trip to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) ten miles or so north of Livingston, La., for their monthly educational meeting, and got a first hand experience and tour of how it works. The LIGO operation is funded by the National Science Foundation and operated by Caltech and MIT universities, with assistance from students and staff from LSU. An identical facility is located in Hanford, Washington; the idea being that with two observatories, any errors in measurements at either location—false positives—caused by local conditions or glitches would be cancelled by the other.

In the Control Room
LIGO began taking its first measurements in 2005, and made upgrades to the facility in 2015, which included the Science Education Center, a building designed for the general public with an auditorium, classroom, pre-control room area, and exhibit hall with about 50 interactive exhibits. The NOSHA group spent time with the hands-on giant, suspended slinky, bobbing and wagging their heads following the  pendulum apparatus, trying to determine the heat source from a large concave mirror, and other exhibits while waiting for the guided part of the tour.
DIY Physics
The guide walked about half of us (our group was split up due the the numbers and others outside of the group mixed in) to the main building where a short film was presented, followed by a visit to the central control room of the complex. Banks of monitors, almost floor to ceiling on three walls looked down on the three or four operators staffing the control. The operators seemed unfazed by the crunch of tourists that squeezed in the the tight space down the center aisle and around their desks and were prompted by the guide to take questions from the guide. (There always seems to be a smart ass in these open question sessions, who purposefully ask a very technical question that would possibly leave a technician without an answer, thereby showing off his own expertise on the subject. Our group had one.) One of our members commented later that this part of the tour might better be served with a more dramatized presentation of goings-on with the maze of data displayed in the monitors and work being done by the operators rather than allowing questioners wander down rabbit holes with their abstruse musings.

So how do we observe something we cannot see (or is not detectable by any of our other four basic senses)? This is possible by observing the effects the phenomenon. In the case of the LIGO observatory, two 4-kilometer arms resembling inverted concrete half-pipes radiate at a 90° angle from a common point from within which a laser beam is sent traversing through a vacuum tube and reflected back to the center by suspended ultra fine mirror.
The passage of a gravitational wave alters the length of the tubes, causing a difference in the time it takes for the beam to travel, and shows up as a slightly out of phase wave length.

Heading toward the Vanishing Point
On September 14, 2015, such a disturbance was noted with the observatory in Livingston, and then, milliseconds later, at the Washington installation. By triangulation, the origin of the wave is determined, and the result agreed with a  previous observation of the merging of two black holes over a billion years ago. “Slightly” is a vague and greatly understated term to describe the actual measurement: the variation amount to a mere 1/1000th of the diameter of a proton was all there was on the wavelengths. The precision involved in locating the mirrors to this degree of measurement is almost incomprehensible, as well as the technology to assure that the foundations in the ground were perfectly level; the concrete base poured to offset the curvature of the Earth, which would be a significant factor for error, even over the relatively short 2.5 mile length. Another wave was observed on December 26 of the same year at both locations. One gets a feel for the sensitivity of the equipment upon entering the facility. The two-lane road is lined on both sides and down the middle with traffic cones and the posted speed limit of 10 mph about a quarter mile before arriving at the main entry and guard shack. Some restrictions on tours are in effect to minimize traffic vibrations.

NOSHA brought a few scientists and engineers of  our own!
Some philosophers of science have pointed out that in the course of building new devices for observing natural phenomena-—even though the original conception may be sound and the intentions admirable-—may have biases built into them, causing them to yield results that they were specifically designed to observe or validate. Understandably, an area where the actual phenomenon remains invisible to the human sensory apparatus, doubt about the validity of positive results can persist, even among those involved in the project. Einstein himself waffled on his own idea, at least once publicly doubting the existence of the gravitational waves. But to Rainer Weiss, who by 1972 had drawn up a design for these long-armed “antennae” as a way to catch lightning in a bottle, a Nobel Prize may soon be on its way, and the burden of disproof remains on the skeptics.

Thanks to Charlotte for putting this together and everyone who helped with the carpooling!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Together we lost our great friend and mentor, Harry Greenberger ( June 22, 1927 - May 3, 2017 )

Marshall Harris addressed the audience at the monthly May 20 program of NOSHA and we felt this was a wonderful statement to share with everyone who knew and loved Harry.

Harry was the most unique of friends in his way of giving, his honesty and sincerity.

I don't think I'll ever come across a friend quite like him ever again in my lifetime.

He lived his life his way.

He pretty much took charge of every aspect, even his exit.

Harry had accomplish many things in his 90 years, but ultimately it was NOSHA, The New Orleans Secular Humanist Association that gave him great joy in his life.

He told me many times how he had always wanted to create an organization where people who felt alone in their thinking could come together to feel a part of something that would keep them from that loneliness.  He wanted nonbelievers to have a place where they could be around like-minded people, and could share, discuss their thoughts and views freely, without judgment or ridicule.  

He knew it would be tough because there was nothing like that available back during the time he began NOSHA. Not to mention there being such a stigma out there about Atheists, Humanists, nonbelievers under any name, your choice.

Harry said to me one morning while I drove him to his very first New Orleans City Council Secular Invocation…

"I don't want to rid the world of religion, I just want my seat at the table, when all others are asked to gather."

He said… "There are lots of people,Marshall, really good people, that simply need religion to function in their life."

"I don't want to take that comfort from anyone. I just want to be respected for my not wanting or needing religion in my life."

Watching Harry I've learned... If you really want people to accept you for who you are, you need to approach them as a gentleman.  If you come across as a screaming radical, you just don't get the same result. You'd be surprised how the gentleman's approach will open doors, and even sometimes have your chair waiting for you to arrive at that gathering table.

The simple proof his way worked was how at first he had to push and really wedge his way in, to even have a secular invocation considered at the City Council of New Orleans, but later after hearing his eloquent words that very first time, Harry was then invited to do so several times thereafter.
These small victories made him so proud.  He was making a difference in some way.

With his television program "The Humanist Perspective".  His regular appearances giving secular invocations to open the daily business of the City Council of New Orleans', and with you, NOSHA, Harry has accomplished something very unique. He made a difference.

If we look around here now, we see a room full of people here today that would not be gathered here, or even know each other at all, if it were not for one man's vision.  Harry Greenberger's hopes have come true.  We are not alone here today... now are we.

I'd like to take this time to thank Charlotte Klasson, who was there next to me when I needed a friend the most.  I appreciate and love her so much for loving Harry and continuing to carry on his life's work so wonderfully as President of NOSHA.

I thank you NOSHA, for being Harry's incredible extended family. He loved you all very much and was so proud to speak of this organization wherever he went.

He wanted me to give you this special gift of $10,000.00, in hopes you guys will continue to work together, keeping his dream alive by reaching out and letting more and more people know NOSHA is here for them.  Letting non-believers know... "they are not alone."

All My Love & Gratitude,

Saturday, May 6, 2017

New Orleans Has a (Plastic) Trash Problem

Max Ciolino with
No Waste NOLA
The ubiquitous plastic grocery bag, with high tensile strength disguised in its tissue paper sheer, along with water bottles and coated aluminum cans, is deservedly near the bullseye of environmentalists’ target for elimination. New Orleanians go through 225 such bags PER DAY, which comes to nearly 2.5 billion in a typical year. No Waste NOLA was a part of the larger coalition Louisiana Reusable Bag Alliance supporting a city ordinance which would have placed a ten-cent fee on non-recyclable plastic bags. The ordinance was withdrawn in September 2016 by councilwomen Guidry and Cantrell, who introduced it, as it appeared to have little support. There is a well-funded lobby opposing placing fees or reducing consumption of non-recyclables. The reasoning is that such restrictions would be “job killers,” but the underlying agenda is corporate profit. State legislator Paul Hollis attempted to introduce a bill in the state house earlier that year which would have prohibited New Orleans from imposing fees on their use, which probably also was a clue to the opposition in conservative, pro-business Louisiana and the councilwomen’s decision to withdraw it. From the Texas-size Great Pacific Garbage Patch (formally know as the North Pacific subtropical gyre) where water bottles, styrofoam cups, and wrappers float, trapped in an spinning cesspool of “single use” packages, to the invisible chemical reaction to human hormonal systems from bisphenol-a (BPA) and pthalates on newborns, to the image of the dead albatross in the Midway atoll, its partially decomposed body revealing plastic bottle caps and disposable lighters it had ingested, we have a constant reminder that “jobs” will be irrelevant on a dead planet.
The month of March brought NOSHA  members and supporters back to their meeting home base, the East Bank Regional Jefferson Parish Library, for the first time since November of last year. The annual Winter Solstice party during the holiday season and the unsettling changes in the national political  outlook in January, along with renovations to our meeting space and the usual Mardi Gras break,  all contributed to our three month absence from the venue.

For our first full meeting of the year, Max Ciolino, a local attorney and president of the advocacy group No Waste NOLA introduced the screening of the 2010 documentary film Bag It! Is Your Life Too Plastic? and followed the hour-long film with an open discussion about the scope of the local plastic pollution problem and his group’s efforts to reduce it by working through city and local  governments.

Usually arguments against “job-killing regulations" favoring a cleaner environment are never balanced (in their makers’ minds) against cases of animal and human life preservation without them. The accumulating disaster of the petrochemical products that we throw away is in plain sight—maybe not in your backyard, but somewhere else on the planet—because there is no “away”, toward which shit can be thrown, other than another part of the planet. Degraded organics may fall apart and end up being ground into topsoils or sinking to ocean floors, but there they enter fresh water supplies and food chains. In Bag It!, film director Susan Beraza balanced the apparent apocalyptic consequences of a throw-away consumer culture left unchanged with a light-hearted—at times, almost comedic—role of the documentary’s protagonist Jeb Berrier, who is on a mission to do his part by eliminating these plastics from his life (and others, as well) showing the process of his awakening and education about the problem. Jeb and partner were expecting the birth of their first child in the narrative, which made for a clever allegory of the life-death-rebirth cyclical mythos of the ancients. His easy going portrayal did not, however, marginalize the enormity of the problem.