Archive for September, 2020

ABOUT MY BOOK ‘STRANGLE’

September 30, 2020

A NOVEL ABOUT THE BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC

The vital struggle at the heart of World War II was the Battle of the Atlantic in which British and Canadian seamen on one side, German U-boat men on other, tried to starve their opponents into submission. It lasted for 6 years; 6000 vessels and 100,000 lives were lost; nothing less than the survival of Western Civilisation hung in the balance. By comparison, titanic battles such as Waterloo, Stalingrad and Trafalgar barely count.

         Conditions for the seamen on both sides were atrocious, for much of it was fought up in far Northern latitudes normally shunned by prudent shipping. Tempestuous storms, gigantic waves, icy seas, tiny corvettes and U-boats….only the very toughest of  men fighting for their families could have stuck it.

Journalists and politicians never went out there, while secrecy was vital. So the public was never to learn of the real struggle that would  decide all of  their fates.

         Every ingenuity was sought by both sides to get that decisive edge: code-breaking, bluff, radar, wolf-pack tactics, long range reconnaissance, sonar, acoustic-torpedoes, Huff-Duff, Operational Research, depth charges,  Hedgehog ….. sailors on both sides sought for measures, counter-measures and counter-counter measures which might turn the tide.

         Not only guts, but science, and a scientific attitude towards the evaluation of evidence became vital. The central character Sturdee is a young physicist and amateur sailor recruited into Western Approaches Command, based in Liverpool which was charged with winning the battle for the Allies. He goes to sea to try and find out why the Royal Navy can’t sink U-boats. He flies out to mid ocean with Catalina crews to discover why air reconnaissance is so effective at discouraging U-boats. He analyses convoy escort tactics while in a hurricane at sea and realises that Thucydides’ principle of Concentration in Battle is still paramount. But can he persuade Admirals and Ministers to change their minds? A shy lad at the outset he has to become a dogged, astute and relentless  man, not only to help win the battle at sea but to persuade his landlady, the formidable Joan, that she’s actually in love with him, and not with her far more glamorous fiancée. The Odds are against him all round but…… imagination and tenacity may sometimes succeed – in love as in war.

         I have been fascinated by this epic since growing up during the war close to a beach in Wales where all the sad detritus of that struggle washed ashore: life-rafts, charred timbers, oiled up sea birds, bodies, oranges, mines…..    and later, as a scientist myself, I came to realise that the innumerate historians’ accounts of the epic most often missed the point. By April 1943 the US Navy had given up, the wolf packs were ravaging Allied convoys, the casualties were appalling – all seemed lost; even the Admiralty despaired. A month later it was all over and Admiral Doenitz recalled his U-boats. What turned the tide? Was it code-breaking, science, admiralty……. or just plain guts?

         The book came out on Amazon as a paperback in 2021. Readers who enjoyed ‘The Cruel Sea’ (Nicholas Monsarrat) or the television series Das Boot might enjoy this also. The author, besides being a Space astronomer is a sucker for the Hornblower novels (CS Forrester) which he’s re-read many times. Go to the Amazon website to find out more about this, and other books by the author. [450 pages, £12.50 paperback, £3.99 e-version.]

ABOUT MY BOOK : ‘HISTORY OF THE BRITS from a scientist’s point of view’.

September 30, 2020

What we aim for, and what we can achieve, are largely determined by who we think we are, by our self-confidence. And that is as true for nations as it is for individuals. Where we British go in future will be decided by what we think about our past. So this is a history of the Brits with its eye on the future. It is different partly because it is written by a scientist who believes that technology, mathematics and science have been so crucial to history that historians without a scientific background are virtually condemned to miss the point. Think of the following: vaccination, Darwinism, universal sewage and clean water, Calculus, broadcasting, the industrial revolution, representative democracy, the telescope, organised sport, tourism, railways, megacities, the middle class, the jet engine, anti-sepsis, computing, expert committees, the abolition of slavery, electronics, nursing, the electric motor, steel, cement, steam-ships, astronavigation, chemistry, Energy, atomic theory, artificial dyes, television, refrigeration, ATMs, the atomic nucleus, , antibiotics, IVF, …… one could go on and on. They were all British developments or insights which have revolutionised mankind’s life. No other society has left such a legacy – or anything approaching it. Surely it is vital to try and understand how it came about – if only to prevent the magic spring from drying up, and that is what this book is largely about. If Ancient Greece was interesting the evolution of Britain is vastly more.

The technlogy that made civisation possible
Civilisation requires above all the transport capacity to feed and fuel great cities. The Greeks and Romans relied on slaves whose backs and spirits they broke before they were replaced by constant conquest. Not only were they brutal but they were long term unsustainable. But an ingenious alternative was to be found eventually in North Western Europe, Britain in particular: Moon power. You are looking at a Thames Sailing Barge which, with crew of only 2 men and a boy, could easily carry more than a thousand fit slaves, or more than 250 horses and carts. Thus great cities like London, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Glagow, Bruges, Rouen, Bristol and Edinburgh became possible for the first time in history; without slavery. See Chapter 2 ; Civilisation and Moon-power. The sails are mainly used to get in and out of favourable tidal streams. Powell/Alamy Live News

My main qualification to attempt a history is a lifetime spent as a Space scientist and astronomer trying to sift through and make sense of conflicting evidence. A sceptical, outsider’s point of view is essential for that, as well as a willingness to change one’s mind – which is never easy. And It helps that I have lived and worked in a dozen countries, experiences which help me to see Britain in a more impersonal light. My portrait of Britain will show her from a new angle, and so by a rather different light.

According to Einstein there is only one fruitful way to think – and that is to use Common Sense Thinking (CST). CST is essential to winnow sound conclusions out of conflicting evidence. But how does Common Sense work? They don’t teach us at school or university because scholars don’t understand it. So I go into CST in some depth before tackling vital issues which historians have almost entirely neglected. For instance: much of human activity is dominated by simple underlying mathematical principles, but conventional historians don’t ‘do’ mathematics. Thus, for example, they don’t understand why nations, including the British, have been forced into continually warring with one another. If we could understand, we might be able to stop it. Civilisation grows out of great cities, but sustainable cities require vast amounts of cheap power just to feed and fuel themselves. Why did London and Glasgow succeed where Rome and Athens failed? It was Moon-power.Why do people go to hot countries to relax, but risk their lives to come and live in cool ones? It is all to do with Thermodynamics – which dominates all of human existence. It turns out that Britain’s climate is ideal. The Armada and the Luftwaffe were both repulsed by expert committees, Britain’s greatest legacy to civilization? But why do committees work?

Healthy societies must progress; but what is Progress? Our study of CST enables us to pin down its 7 key principles, its Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which turn out to be: Curiosity, Honesty, Adaptability, Numeracy, Tolerance, Literacy and Democracy which then illuminate the whole subject and explain Britain’s uniqueness. But can it remain Progressive? Yes; but only if we thoroughly understand what those Seven Pillars of Wisdom are, and just why they work. So this is about some fundamental and fascinating issues that other historians, because of their background, or rather their lack of scientific background, have left out. Britain’s future could be either very dark; or very bright, depending on our understanding of what Progress entails. George Orwell said: “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own history”. The author believes that modern Brits have allowed their history to be stolen away. It’s time to put the record straight.

This is a LIVE BOOK with a large and growing counter presence at HOB&&&, another Post on this site under the History Category. You will find much more about this book and its contents there. The paperback version of the book, with 77 kilo-words and 270 pages is available on Amazon (2020) for £10.[ ISBN – 9 – 781086157499]

                              TABLE OF CONTENTS,

Preface      Another History; What on Earth For?  p 1

Chapter 1: Geography: This Sceptred Isle    p 6   

Chapter 2: Civilisation and Moon-power     11

Chapter 3: The Royal Navy     16

Chapter 4: A Mathematical Portrait of History     19

Chapter 5: Progress: Why Nice Chaps come in First     29

Chapter 6: Committees     41

Chapter 7: Parasites.    48

Chapter 8: Can History have a  Scientific Method ?    60

Chapter 9: Why Men have  had to Fight.    71

Chapter 10: Britain in the Second World War.    81

Chapter 11: The British Empire: Achievement or Crime?     90

Chapter 12: Escaping its Priestly Chains.     98

Chapter 13: The Baleful Shadow of America.     105

Chapter 14: Half-baked Economics; the Modern Religion.      128

Chapter 15: Numeracy; the Seventh Pillar of Wisdom      146

Chapter 16: Population and Immigration:  the Numbers.     162

Chapter 17: Innovation.    182

Chapter 18 The History of Thinking.    206

Chapter 19 Mass Immigration – the Big Creep.     219

Chapter 20 Baducation.    P 235

                Retrospect and Prospect.    255

                If I had my way. 258

Chapter 21 The Superpowers Aren’t [ on line only at my post HOB&&& ]

                Au Revoir      261

                Acknowledgments   267

The paperback version [ ISBN – 9 – 781086157499] with 77 kilo-words came out on Amazon in June 2020 priced at £10.00

ABOUT MY BOOK ‘BEYOND THE WESTERN STARS’.

September 29, 2020

A novel about astronomical research

The last of the 4 novels of a saga set amidst Space exploration and astronomical research between 1965 and 2015 when the extragalactic universe truly hove into sight for the first time. Voyaging to a new continent is hard enough, understanding it when you first arrive is harder still. Columbus imagined he was in Japan; in Cochin Vasco da Gama saw little beyond sandalwood and spices; Pissaro couldn’t tear his greedy eyes off Inca gold. What will the first voyagers make of the extragalactic universe as seen from Space? What delusions will comfort them, what preconceptions will blind them to the truth? Morgan and his colleagues, friends and enemies struggle to make sense of a vast new firmament none could have foreseen. Starting at the great radio telescope in Australia Morgan confidently expects to find his own obsession, his Hidden Galaxies. But the results will come as a shock. Or could there be some deep misunderstanding? Meanwhile the race is on to repair and refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope following the Columbia tragedy. Back in Wales Curly and Petrel struggle to make sense of the Sea Empress disaster which chokes their Pembrokeshire coast in oil. Love comes to Morgan from far far away as his university decides to sack him. Old Salt is on his last legs but is not too weak to take on the Establishment, while Frank has persuaded Europe to build the world’s largest telescope. The closest family relationships are poisoned by jealousy; Petrel changes tack; Morgan goes to Venice and ‘hears the horns of elfland faintly blowing’. But has he become unbalanced, as many of his colleagues believe? A great oak falls; Jack Cockle departs. Whose dreams will come true, whose hopes will be dashed`?

The deepest image ever taken of the Universe. It was taken with the WFC_3 camera which Morgan helped to design and exploit towards the end of his career. Does it prove that the Universe isn’t expanding? Looks like it. Morgan thought there was something very strange going on here. It can see back 12 billion years, to before the Sun was formed. The study is called “the Ultraviolet Coverage of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (UVUDF) project.” Courtesy ESA/NASA

Paperback available from Amazon £12.50, 400 pages, e-version £3.99

ABOUT MY BOOK ‘CROUCHING GIANT’

September 29, 2020

A novel about astronomical research

The third novel in the saga of Space exploration is a mix of triumph, disaster and surprise. The Space Shuttle Challenger blows up killing all the astronauts. A colossal Hidden Galaxy turns up crouching beneath the sky. Morgan unexpectedly acquires a daughter and discovers, to general surprise, that spiral galaxies are heavily veiled in smoke. The Hubble Space Telescope gets launched, but with a crippled mirror; ways must be found to put it right. Finally the first very deep images come back from Space; but what do they mean? Rows break out between the teams. Frank builds an observatory on a remote Atlantic isle. Bob Salt intervenes in the Cold War while, deep behind the Iron Curtain Morgan has two encounters which will change his life. But then he almost loses it all. The action shuttles back and forth between Wales, Cape Canaveral, The Caucasus, Castel Gandolfo, the Arabian mountains, Baltimore, the Canary Islands, India, Australia, Paris….. See ‘Against the Fall of Night‘ and ‘The Whispering Sky’ for the two previous novels, with same main characters and ‘Beyond the Western Stars’ its successor and the finale to the saga.

A montage of galaxies found by Morgan and his team solely based on their radio signals, thus it shouldn’t be influenced by their optical characteristics. Indeed such a search could in principle find entirely dark galaxies. As you can see some of the galaxies are almost invisible, but not quite. Perhaps most interesting are the six specimens bottom right, because they are all colossal Giants containing more Hydrogen (which emits the radio signal) than our Milky way. But as you can see some are very dim even so. Image courtesy of Prof. Julianne Dalcanton, University of. Washington Seattle, and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Published Amazon paperback, 400 + pages £12.99 and as an e-book on Kindle 2021 £3.99 with equivalent prices elsewhere.

ABOUT MY BOOK ‘THE WHISPERING SKY’

September 29, 2020

A novel about astronomical research

The Whispering Sky is the second of a quartet of self-contained novels relating the saga of two astronomers, originally boyhood friends, caught up in humankind’s endeavour to explore the Universe from Space. Thanks to his feud with Bellfounder – the machiavellian Astronomer-Royal [See ‘Against the Fall of Night’, first in the quartet], Tom Morgan has been thrown out of British Astronomy. Cheated out of the post he had been promised he struggles precariously in Europe to try and prove that his theory of Hidden Galaxies is right. That takes him to far flung observatories from the peaks of the Andes to the Cape of South Africa. Meanwhile the US is building the Shuttle to launch a large telescope into orbit but demands European participation in the venture. Frank Cotteridge, by now Bellfounder’s protégé, is tasked with lighting the European fuse. At conferences and in laboratories across the Continent the struggle begins to try and build the first electronic camera, to act as the great telescope’s eyes. In the 1970’s that looked impossible. And yet without such eyes the telescope will be blind. The race against the clock, and with rivals in California, begins. Personal and professional tensions drive wedges between the two friends while the race for Space forces them to rely ever more closely upon one another. Morgan rashly plans his revenge on Bellfounder, a battle only one of them can possibly survive.

This illustration shows the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope in its high orbit 600 kilometres above Earth. Morgan and Cotteridge began working on its design back in 1977, 13 years before launch. Courtesy ESA/NASA.

At the same time Morgan is struggling, as a single parent, to bring up his son Curly and hold on to him in a bitter custody battle. When he loses, Curly is whisked away to Australia but then escapes and gets hopelessly lost in the bush.

The author was himself a professional astronomer, and a single parent, throughout this epoch. From 1976 until 2010 he was a key member of the Hubble Space Telescope team. Hubble’s story, our story, which he has been preparing to write for 20 years, is packed with dreams, heroes, shocks, villains, and the odd rare triumph. Like one of Magellan’s crew he saw great wonders and has tall tales to tell; the fight to get born, the Challenger disaster, the crippled mirror, the astronaut repair-missions, cancellation following the Columbia tragedy, renaissance, the race to prevent the space-craft dying, the huge discoveries… he was there; he was there; he was there. He knew the people, felt the pain, drank the wine. ENTIRE QUARTET ‘ called ‘Written in the Stars’ comprises: ‘Against the Fall of Night’ (1964 – 1974), ‘The Whispering Sky’ (1976 – 1983) , ‘Crouching Giant’ (1985 – 1995), ‘Beyond the Western Stars’ (1997 – 2012). All four paperbacks – each about 400 pages long – are out on Amazon, (2020), £12.99 or e-version £3.99.

ABOUT MY BOOK ‘AGAINST THE FALL OF NIGHT’

September 29, 2020

A novel about astronomical research

  Against the Fall of Night is a story about astronomical research, of one man’s battle to prove that there is another universe out there, hidden below the light of the night sky. It is centred in that glorious epoch between 1960 and 2010 when mankind at last broke free from Earth’s atmosphere and had to confront the Cosmos as it truly is: vast, mysterious  and very likely beyond his puny comprehension. But will he realise that, or seize on comforting fairy stories that will only serve to conceal the truth?  

Tom Morgan the protagonist, often facing starkly contradictory evidence, is suspended between exultation and despair. Half heroic and half tragic, his quest becomes an obsession which drives him round the world in search of the killer clue, forces him into confrontation with a highly sceptical Establishment.

Starting in the swinging London of the mid-sixties  the action moves on to remote observatories in Arizona, Australia, Africa, the Soviet Union, the Andes, Hawaii, …..and culminates on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, for Morgan’s quest eventually leads him to become one of the designers of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Where so much of our story really began. This is Steward Observatory perched atop Kitt Peak, a mile above the Sonora Desert in Arizona. The 36-inch telescope left was used to find the Crab optical pulsar, and in the cylindrical 90-inch (centre) Morgan first started to think about Hidden Galaxies. Observers like him from the University of Arizona slept in the small buildings bottom right. The monster ‘4-metre’ was added later.

Morgan is no scientific cipher. An emotional single parent, he needs friends, comrades and lovers. He climbs, flies a glider, sails his boat and forges Van Gogh’s. Worse still he enjoys fighting a growing phalanx of enemies led by Sir Adrian Bellfounder, the unscrupulous Astronomer Royal. He is an extreme type: individual, competitive, irascible, passionate, imprudent. Throughout what will be a quartet, each part completely self-contained, but with the same central characters and spine plot, (see below) he is contrasted with his opposite, and lifelong friend and rival Frank, who has his own astronomical tale to tell. Frank  is the attractive, balanced, unselfish character who can get men and women to work together to build dreams beyond the reach of any single one. The story starts with the two friends leaving their universities, with very different prospects before them.

The author was himself a professional astronomer throughout this epoch. From 1976 until 2010  he was  a key member of the Hubble Space Telescope team. Hubble’s story, our story, which he had been preparing to write for 20 years, is packed with dreams, heroes, shocks, villains, and the odd rare triumph. Like one of Magellan’s crew he saw great wonders and has tall tales to tell; the fight to get born, the Challenger disaster, the crippled mirror, the astronaut repair missions, cancellation following the Columbia tragedy, renaissance, the race to prevent the space-craft dying, the huge discoveries… he was there; he was there; he was there. He knew the people, felt the pain, drank the wine.

ENTIRE QUARTET: ‘Written in the Stars’

  ‘Against the Fall of Night’ (1964 – 1974)  .

  ‘The Whispering Sky’ 1976 – 1983) ,

  ‘Crouching Giant’  1985 – 1995,

  ‘Beyond the Western Stars’ 1997 – 2014,

All four – each about 200 thousand words, i.e. 400 pages long have come out on Amazon, almost simultaneously (2020), as paperbacks £12.99 or as e-books £3.99 (2021)

ABOUT MY BOOK ‘THINKING FOR OURSELVES’.

September 29, 2020

Why not learn to think like Einstein? He attributed his success entirely to common sense. But what is Common Sense Thinking (CST) ? They don’t tell us in class because scholars don’t know how it works; it’s buried too deep inside us. So the author, who is a Space astronomer, has spent a lifetime unearthing it. Common Sense turns out to have nothing whatever to do with IQ, or with passing exams; it has to do with Curiosity, with the deliberate gathering of evidence, with a willingness to change one’s mind, and with the patience to wait until the Odds look decisive. But these common sense thinking skills are the very skills of the detective as well as the scientist; we can all learn them if we want to, whatever our educational attainments.

 To think efficiently for ourselves we require the right information and the right tools. At last the Internet is bringing an increasing flood of the kind of information we need to make crucial decisions for ourselves, and not have to rely any longer on expensive and often unreliable experts. But do we have the right mental tools? We do and we don’t. We do because Nature has embedded deep within us the sophisticated mental mechanisms  needed to survive in the perilous Stone-age out of which we evolved. We don’t, in the sense that we don’t know how those tools work, and so we cannot adapt them for best use in a modern world full of culture and technology. The author has unearthed those ingenious and previously unrecognised tools which Nature evolved  for dealing with conflicting evidence, for discounting bad clues, and for weighing up all the pros and cons.

The aim of this book is to open nature’s tool-bag and demonstrate her mental tools working one by one. The reader will end up equipped with an indispensable boy-scout’s penknife for the thinking mind.

         The book is aimed at two kinds of readers: those who feel they are educated – and those who feel they are not. The educated ones will discover that they have not learned Common Sense Thinking at school or university, and badly need to – while the uneducated ones will find that dropping out of education is no handicap if they now decide that they do want to think seriously and well. Anyone aged 14 or over could master it.

The approach is to work through numerous stories and examples, some serious, some light-hearted, all hopefully interesting and relevant. The book is really a series of detective stories in which we learn to work out rough odds on the various suspects (ideas) being guilty.

There are plenty of exercises for those who want to practice, with worked answers available free on the Internet.

Topics covered include:

  1. Different kinds of Thinking
  2. How scientists think and decide
  3. How to weight clues
  4. How to reckon the Odds
  5. Woolly thinking
  6. The Elephants in the room (Systematic Errors)
  7. Animal Intelligence
  8. Numbers and Errors in Thinking
  9. Why we don’t need Statistics any more.
  10. Common mistakes in Thinking and Deciding
  11. The extraordinary history of Thinking
  12. What is Science, and what is not?
  13. The meteoric ascent of mankind. What on Earth happened?

There are 16 chapters. Two hours devoted to each should equip the reader with the tools needed to go about tackling the hardest mental problems in life.

The complete Table of contents can be seen here:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/TFOtoc-copy.pdf

The paperback book came out on Amazon early in 2020, has 600+ pages, is about 190 kw. in length and is priced at £14.50 with roughly equivalent prices in foreign markets. You can see much more by using the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon. The Exercises, with answers, are on the web and elsewhere in this blog at

:https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/TFOEXERCISES140918.pdf

Corrections as of June 2020 can be found at:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/tfocorrsjun20.docx

ABOUT MY BOOK ‘PTERODACTYL’S BLOOD’

September 29, 2020

How we could save the world with recyclable oil

This is the story of Griff Boatwright, a ‘mad’ scientist who discovered how to make ‘Recyclable Oil’, but was apparently killed in a plane-crash shortly before his magic discovery could be exploited to save the Earth from global warming. His friend Mike determines to find out what happened in the hope that others can re-discover the transformative substance before it is too late. He unearths the unlikely journey of Griff’s path towards his discovery, which takes in the mystery of tiny warblers that can fly the Atlantic, of marine iguanas, sun-loving creatures that thrive in frozen seas, and of giant pterosaurs that were, according to the laws of aerodynamics, far too massive to fly and yet, so evidently, did. This is a story of love too, of two close friends who fell for one remarkable woman , who loved both of them back, and of one man who fell in love with both a mother and her daughter, and made a fatal choice. What happened to Griff and why did did he depart this Earth before he could rescue it? Naomi believes God was somehow involved. Salome is sure he is still alive; somewhere. Mike follows the scent from a mid-Atlantic storm, to the Arabian mountains, from British Columbia to Queensland, from Tasmania’s Bay of Fires to the coast of Pembrokeshire and finally to Skomer Island. If Mike can resurrect Griff’s lost discovery humans could generate all the energy they will ever need , without harming a single ecosystem on the planet. But it all depends on Pterodactyls’ blood! The author is a Space scientist with a life-long fascination for bird-flight. The revelation of a tiny warbler landing on his ship in mid-ocean set him off wondering just how birds accomplish such apparently miraculous feats. That led him to become a soaring pilot himself and to the long-standing puzzle of how giant pterosaurs, weighing 20 times as much as any bird capable of flight today, could dominate the Earth a hundred Million years ago, before they were wiped out by a meteorite. He believes that if we can rediscover their secret , we too could make Recyclable Oil.

Wandering Albatross flying over rough sea, Southern Atlantic Ocean . I have watched such marvellous creatures with their 12 foot wingspan circling our ship for hours without a single wingbeat. Griff and Naomi spent their honeymoon studying them. We know they sometimes fly 5,000 kilometres in between feeding their chicks. They are being wiped out by long line fishermen. Mike Hill/ getty.images.

The paperback was published on Amazon in 2020 at £12.99 qnd the e-book version in August 20 21 at £3.99.

There are several posts on bird-flight, aerodynamics and pterosaurs on this site under the Category ‘Flight’. Do you know there are birds which can fly from Alaska to New Zealand, 11,000 miles, in a single hop? And we think we’re Lords of the Earth.