Thursday, July 29, 2004

A 12-Minute History of John Kerry and Iraq

The Republican National Committee has produced a video history of John Kerry's statements and votes in the Senate concerning Iraq since before the Gulf War of 1991. He is shown to have spoken plainly and repeatedly but is also shown to have drastically changed his mind on the subject on two important occasions: during the aftermath of the first Gulf War and at the peak of the Howard Dean Presidential campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire.

It covers his views expressed during the years-long national debate on the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and on specific U.S. military and diplomatic actions actually taken against that regime.

The piece is unfortunately marred slightly by the inclusion of a few seconds of the "Flipper" TV show music theme but if the viewer can look past that, the piece is a worthwhile account of what Senator Kerry has said and how he has acted. You should be concerned about this and I urge you to view it. It'll probably take a broadband connection to view satisfactorily, but if you're on dial-up you might as well try it.

It can be viewed by going to the RNC site and clicking on the "Top Story". It is available for both Windows Media Player and Real Player.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Mathematica is Beautiful Software

Is there any way a person with a reasonable command of the English language can refer to mere software as "beautiful"? I've run into a number of professors and teaching assistants who would talk about "beautiful" equations. But English was a second (or third) language for them and I think they would have used the word "elegant" if it had come to them at the time. However I think that the word is appropriate forMathematica.

When I was a graduate student in the Aerospace Engineering Department at the University of Texas in the summer of 1983, I was working on developing equations of motion for a Kalman filter. The application was an air-to-air missile tracking a target airplane using bearings-only measurements. This essentially involved analytically integrating second-order equations to obtain equivalent first-order equations for 6x6 and 8x8 systems. I did it with a pencil and paper and took over a month to integrate them, correct errors, code them up in Fortran, and check for accuracy by comparing results against numerically integrated equations. Numerical integration is much faster for the programmer to code but analytic ("closed form") integration is much faster for the computer to crunch.

In the late 1980s, when I had gone to work as an engineer at The Aerospace Corporation, I was deriving equations to enhance 3-degree-of-freedom ("3DOF") equations of motion for high-fidelity computer simulations of launch vehicle trajectories. The enhancement was to add terms to the equations that would make them look more like 6DOF equations and, hence, more like the real world. I found Macsyma , an early symbolic computation package developed at MIT and the US Department of Energy. This package was extremely useful in helping me derive my equations quickly and with many fewer human errors creeping into the process, which would only have to be found and fixed later on. In fact, this work led to two papers (here and here). And I couldn't help thinking, maybe even obsessively, about that time and pain I invested that summer at UT working on my Kalman filters. Macsyma would have saved me a lot of time --- pretty much all of it, in fact. Alas, Macsyma was probably not invented then, or at least it wasn't available to me at the time.

The first version of Mathematica was released in 1988 but I did not hear of it until around 1990 when a colleague bought it and put it on his Macintosh computer at work. I was struck as soon as I saw him working with it. Mathematica was and is the most --- yes --- beautiful software I have ever seen. My jobs and schoolwork since then have never really called for the use of Mathematica, although I continued to play with it, especially when I returned to graduate school in the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. I even took a non-credit short introductory course on Mathematica and how to apply it to engineering problems.

But now I work for the government (ours) and the site license they have negotiated with Wolfram includes free home-use licenses for employees. This is wonderful! Mathematica is quite expensive: approximately $1500 for Windows and Macintosh versions and around $3000 for Linux/Unix versions. So now I have it on my laptop computer and can play for with it any time I want. And it really is play for me. (I sometimes wish I had majored in math in college instead of engineering.) There is also a nice companion website for recreational Mathematica users known as MathWorld and it contains extensive material on all kinds of math topics. In many cases supplementary Mathematica notebooks are available to download free of charge so that the interested hobbyist may investigate the topics further.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Upcoming Movie About Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

I just heard about a new Catholic movie that will open in theaters October 1. Coming on the heels of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, it is interesting and encouraging that a new film has been produced about the life of Saint Thérèse. (That link is for the movie and here is more information about Saint Thérèse.)

What a refreshing change! What a welcome break after the constant pounding on the Catholic Church by the media over the past few years with more than a few movies and books, the motivations behind which are all too easy to guess.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Bishop Fulton Sheen Audio Files

If you like watching Bishop Fulton Sheen's television shows on EWTN, there's a fan web site which has about fifty of his shows in MP3 format. You can download them and either listen to them right away on your computer or you can burn them to CD-R disks and listen to them on a CD player. I am not old enough to remember his show on television but maybe you are. After watching his show on EWTN on Friday nights it is easy to see why he was popular. He was a compelling speaker and had things of worth to say; he was also a bit of showman. Based on the shows I've seen so far, he seems to always begin with an anecdote and then seques to an extended monologue that lasts twenty minutes or so. It seems easy to tell when he begins moving toward the conclusion of his talk by noticing his voice as it begins its long and dramatic crescendo.

Bishop Sheen died in 1979 and lived long enough to see the first year of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Human Life Apparently Begins at Conception

Brace yourself for another flip-flop, er, nuanced opinion from the best the Democrat party has to offer. John Kerry now says that life begins at conception but doesn't want to legislate his "Catholic" religious beliefs for Protestant and Jewish Americans. Never mind that evangelical Protestant Christians are one of the two most visible components of the Pro-Life political movement. In any event, this is why he's voted against the ban on partial birth abortion, expressed support for research using new lines of embryonic stem cells, and opposes bans on even third trimester abortions? Sonograms that everyone can see for themselves be damned. Besides, sophisticated thinkers such as John Kerry who hold nuanced opinions on topics of such importance would never call them "partial birth abortions". They're "dilations and extractions", thank you very much.

The point is that John Kerry must now believe that something wrong is going on when an abortion at any point in the pregnancy occurs. An obvious question is, why doesn't the Senator from Massachusetts step up immediately and do something to put a stop to it?

Let's extrapolate the logic and apply it to a historical situation back in, say, the 1850s. Using John Kerry's way of thinking, famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was actually WRONG for having forcefully advocated the immediate emancipation of the slaves held in the southern United States at the time. Harriet Beecher Stowe was an irresponsible war monger for writing Uncle Tom's Cabin and unnecessarily inflaming abolitionist sentiment in the northern United States. How could it be otherwise when she was skewering an institution self-righteously held by the political aristocracy of the antebellum South to be irrelevant to the debate on the nature of decent human society. After all, they were talking about subhumans, each of whom was only three-fifths of a person.

It's lucky we have Senator Kerry of Massachusetts to help us sort out the morality of the everlasting abortion debate. I'm sure denying the humanity of a third trimester fetus and a refusal to call that fetus a baby is nothing like considering a human being to be three-fifths of a person. I'm sure all analogies like these are facile and simplistic and simply unrelated. Thank goodness for great men like John Kerry.

Why doesn't John Kerry lead, instead of following the winds of the Democrat party political and intellectual aristocracy like NARAL and Emily's List? I think you know the reason why.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

The American Press in Iraq

I found a link to Eric Johnson's j'accuse of a specific reporter heading up the Washington Post Baghdad bureau on Instapundit and thought it was important enough to echo in my own blog. Johnson, a Marine Corps reservist who served in Iraq, and is also a writer, points out the fecklessness of this particular person, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, and the tendentiousness of the, um, news stories being filed from that Baghdad bureau. I recognize that articles like this just reek of the post-Kaiser "stabbed in the back" bitterness found in Germany in the interwar years. But we didn't lose the war, we are winning it. And note that the article essentially validates what Paul Wolfowitz said (and later inexplicably apologized for).

With apologies to the shade of Harry Truman, I'm sick of babying the fifth-columnist press corps. Hurrah for Eric Johnson and the others like him. Unlike Chandrasekaran, Johnson knows (first hand) that we are fighting in a real war against terrorism. This is a war against an organized tenacious enemy that really exists, something that the Washington Post and the New York Times and many others don't seem to acknowledge. We are fighting terrorism in what ever form it takes, whether Al Qaeda or Baathists or al Sadr's Mahdi "Army". Nobody is asking the Post or the Times to be Pravda or Izvestia but for God's sake, at least TRY to be honest in your reporting. Make your point in the editorial pages. And to our political leaders, for God's sake stop apologizing to these people.