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So far Kai Staats has created 457 blog entries.

Did we really find gravitational waves?

Letter to the editor, New Scientist:

Concerning “Did we really find gravitational waves?

When I was CEO of the software development company that produced Yellow Dog Linux, I was frequently interviewed about our product launches and related support of Apple, IBM, and Sony computers. In one particular interview the “reporter” got it all wrong, so bad that for the first (and last) time I was forced to take action to have the article retracted, as colleagues, even close friends reached out to ask if it was true.

It occurred to me then that if people who knew me, who trusted me were swayed by the power of the printed word to question my integrity, when in fact nothing of the sort occurred, how many other articles had I read by this small-town publication, and many more by large format journals, were equally incorrect or intentionally slanted to sell copy?

In reading the New Scientist article Did we really find gravitational waves? I was blown away by the disinformation contained therein, intentional misuse of key facts and figures, a total lack of understanding of the means by which the LSC isolates signal from noise, and the blatant disregard for the 70+ EM follow-up confirmations (not just one). The article reads as a children’s storybook, a version taken to such simple explanation that it becomes wrong.

Now, as I did many years ago, I question the integrity of the publication as a whole. While I have for a half decade enjoyed NS’ snippets of information in a diversity of subjects, fully aware of the sensational cover stories, I am baffled by how this article could be called an “investigation”. An investigation requires the reporter to become something of an expert in the subject during his or her information gathering campaign. This was clearly not your agenda. Rather, you moved to publish cover story to capture the attention of the reader without concern for the integrity of the information contained therein.

It is one thing to give a scientist a platform on which to question a colleague’s work. That is the very reason we publish. But to call it an “investigative report” and feature it on the cover when the article doesn’t even begin to describe the methods by which the LSC conducts its research is a completely different ball game.

I am not an astrophysicist, yet I could give a half hour lecture on the points of this article that were intentionally slanted or simply wrong. I was proud to have my latest film “LIGO Detection” launched by New Scientist (www.newscientist.com/round-up/ligodetection/), but will not be renewing my subscription in 2019. Not because as a member of the LSC I am offended. No. Because I know enough to recognize the fallacy in what was published, begging the question how many more of your publications portray research in an equally incorrect manner. You have given in to the need to capture attention through conflict instead of good science in a world that needs more critical thinking, not controversy.

Cheers,
Kai Staats, MSc

Read a more complete story at Ars Technica

By | 2018-11-15T22:31:13+00:00 November 14th, 2018|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on Did we really find gravitational waves?

The Lost City of Z

In our travel down the coast of the Pacific Northwest, we are listening to an audio version of the book “The Lost City of Z” by David Grann (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_City_of_Z). This engaging, compelling narrative simultaneously tells the stories of three adventurers: Englishman Fawcett, Brazilian banker Lloyd, and the American reporter and author Grann. The early twentieth century, English explorer Percy Fawcett repeatedly journeyed into the heart of the Amazon in an attempt to discover a rumored, ancient civilization now succumb to the relentless onslaught of what Fawcett described as the green hell.

Far be it from me to summarize the chapters of this book in any manner as to even come close to its effect on the reader, for it is, in a single word–riveting.

Grann captures the essence of the mindset and determination of that era of explorer. The Royal Geographic Society was then filled with men (and later women) of this caliber, people capable of enduring hardship in overland exploration that give the modern day outdoors enthusiast cause to shudder, if not turn away from the thought alone for the onset of nausea.

The journals of Fawcett and his small crew describe pressing through a jungle so thick that a full day’s effort, at times, saw the gain of just 100 yards. The were attacked by mosquitoes without remorse, vampire bats while they slept, bees that nested in the liquid of their pupils, and maggots that infested their open wounds, occasionally pushing through the surrounding skin, as though to come up for air before diving back in. Despite swollen limbs, muscles far too lean to carry the packs on their backs, and the dark brood of malaria, they continued. They built rafts which they pulled up-stream, wading in waters infested with piranha and candiru, the famous “dick fish” of the Amazon river (which I have since learned, is not at all capable nor even interested in swimming into the male reproductive organs (http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160104-does-the-candiru-fish-really-eat-human-penises)).

I have not cringed so many times in reading a book as I have in these several hours as we drove from Powell’s book seller in Portland to Redding California. I have not so many times been reminded of how much our relationship to the world outside of the land we occupy as cities has changed.

For centuries Europeans dominated the natural and discovered world through a system of brutal oppression and control. This was accompanied by a determination that anything and anyone outside of the geographic regions described by the Christian bible were automatically uncivilized, heathen, even inhuman. Grann recounts this paradigm in his retelling of some of the Spanish entries into the Amazon with not a handful of men, but hundreds in full metal uniform and thousands of natives forced to accompany as slaves.

We have in the twenty first century entered the age of data collection. Mountains that were once held as impassible, sacred, or simply unnecessary to conquer are now scaled as a matter of recreation. Treks across inhospitable terrains in temperatures that never climb above freezing required years of preparation, massive ships to safeguard rations, and a risk to all who were encumbered.

The same trek across the South Pole are now conducted by individuals with a faction the gear, in far less time. The Pacific Crest Trail is walked, Mexico to Canada, 2600 miles without ever checking a compass, a topographical map, or the stars overhead. Our digital devices can tell us exactly where we are, at any given second, and yet we have no clue as to where we reside.

Colleen and I journeyed forty miles over the source of four days and three nights in the Washington Cascades, carrying packs roughly half the weight of those shouldered by Fawcett and his men. We hiked on trails so well worn that without a map, without compass or GPS we could cross the entire Glacier Peak Wilderness and not lose our bearing. Yet in those four days we were reminded how it feels to carry one’s own weight, to have all that we needed, to “discover” land in which many have gone before us, but they remain preserved enough that we felt as though we could be the first to set foot on those boulders, mountain shoulders, and snow fields.

In Fawcett’s two decades of exploration he adapted, evolved, and improved. He traveled lighter with each entry into the midnight canopy, and learned from the wisdom of the natives. He was perhaps one of the first ethnobotanists, replacing the brutal English attempts at curing wounds with heated irons to using local plant leaves, roots, and applications that for thousands of years had allowed the South Americans to survive, even prosper.

As my own gear has become lighter over three decades of excursions into the wilderness (clearly, a very different wilderness than that of the Amazon), I have moved from 65 pound packs to roughly 20 on most occasions. Now, I am motivated to take this farther, to learn what plants are available along the trail of the Sonoran Southwest, the Colorado Rockies, and the Washington Cascades and Olympic Peninsula such that my pack is even lighter, and I am able to travel longer without resupply.

Yet in comparison to the journeys of Fawcett, Shackleton, and Livingston, I recognize that I will never push my body as they once did. No one does. We have, I am certain, lost that kind of adventure.

By | 2018-08-31T16:31:21+00:00 August 31st, 2018|From the Road|Comments Off on The Lost City of Z

The return

How does one return from a place that feels right, to a world in which so little makes sense?

How does one move from the lichens and moss underfoot to the lifeless barrier of concrete?

How does one block, filter, and shut-out the city when the sounds of the wilderness are all wanting to be heard?

This transition, this return to the complex, human-crafted world is not easy when the one at the end of the lake and up, into the mountains is what feels natural and life giving.

By | 2018-08-28T11:54:25+00:00 August 17th, 2018|From the Road|Comments Off on The return

New Socks

I have decided that a new pair of socks may be one of the best things one can experience.

A snug fit, the kind that provides a sense of security, yet soft, fluffy, and warm. Hiking socks are the best, for they are full bodied, like a good beer, totally enveloping your foot with or without the boot. New running socks give new life to old running shoes.

Yet, if you purchase a half dozen new socks that are of the same model as the old, you run the risk of not immediately telling them apart once through the wash. Yes, under the right light it is possible to see which is faded, for black is truly a dark, dark blue in the world of cloth and dyed materials. Sometimes you are able to pinch the wall, rubbing thumb and forefinger together to determine which is thicker. But sometimes you just have to try them on, determining which is the thicker. The thinner is removed, and another tested until you have a match.

This can be a time consuming process, and anxiety producing if you are late to get going in the morning. I am considering some kind of marker, a tag or tiny bleach spot, perhaps an ID tag for the various degrees of age.

NO DOT – new
ONE DOT – previous generation
TWO DOTS – two generations old, likely ready to be come rags

By | 2018-07-12T13:11:22+00:00 July 12th, 2018|The Written|Comments Off on New Socks

Where should the words go?

I haven’t had much to say lately. Neither here nor on social media (which I seldom use, anyway). My words are no longer at home outside of my head. Where do they go? What value to they carry? To whom do they intend?

I’ve been hyper-focused on my research project and team at ASU, building a mathematical model of an off-world habitat and community. My work at LIGO has slowed, but remains in motion. Mostly guiding, in a supporting role. With the help of my high school physics prof Dan Heim, we are preparing the Cave-Cassegrain telescope to ship to Tanzania, the one I drove from Wisconsin back to Arizona a few weeks ago.

I am settling into some semblance of a routine, now that Colleen and I share a house in Flagstaff. Runs every-other-morning from here around Buffalo Park and back. Home made fruit smoothies, fresh eggs from Nikki’s chickens on the east side of town, then work from my shed-office, a tiny tin-roofed structure built from lumber recycled from two generations earlier. Interior sideboard are covered with newspapers from the 1800s. When I need a break, I walk around the space (4 paces long, 2 paces wide) and journey back in time.

I am experimenting with crabapple pies. Colleen continues to cook incredible meals, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She is a natural with food. We eat incredibly healthy, yet both crave garden-fresh food knowing we have succumb to store-bought produce that always fails in comparison.

This was my summer to begin construction of a home on my land outside of Moab. But recent alterations to the C&Rs have raised confusion and tension. My ideal, modest mountain cabin may not be accepted, for it does not uphold the neighborhood that is leaning toward half million dollar homes. Legal language has been employed instead of neighborly consideration, despite my best attempts at personal communication. While the land remains astounding, I question if this is where I want to live, to raise a family. I should not have to seek legal approval to build a greenhouse or children’s playground when the nearest neighbor is a quarter mile away. I cannot help but see parallels between our small microcosm of the larger, over-developed world. Houses are sized not according to personal need nor their impact on the environment, but by the need to increase the value of the investment. This establishes a contest between frequently opposing forces. Development almost always wins.

The issues on the border are crushing to me. I fight back tears as I listen to the news. Having worked on the border with No More Deaths (https://www.kaistaats.com/blog/2010/06/no-more-deaths) I feel the pain of the situation deep inside. I contemplate forgoing a vacation and instead learning if my organizational and computer skills could somehow be applied, a database and image recognition algorithms to help reunite children with their parents.

Today, I must remain focused. Three calls with ASU research team members (ignoring that it is a Sunday), editing a film proposal, and the final submission of my book proposal for MIT Press.

By | 2018-06-24T14:34:47+00:00 June 24th, 2018|The Written|Comments Off on Where should the words go?

True or False … stay tuned

There was a period in my life, from 2012-2015 when I was adept at producing a regular series of essays. I was weekly sharing stories of my travels, adventures, meetings, and interactions with the world in so many ways. I felt, at that time, that my life was rich, dynamic, and impossibly full. Yet, now, I am working more hours each day, more full days each week than in the past decade and the richness of my engagements is equally fulfilling, even if in a different way. Yet, the stories are internalized, always on hold, for the process is each day unfolding.

When a day in Palestine, Tanzania, or South Africa is a day worth describing, a day working on Python coding leaves one wanting to get away from the keyboard, not closing the day with more typing. What’s more, there is a fear of ridicule for sharing the process if the process is one already tested and proved true or false, for in research the goal is not to rediscover, but to discover anew.

To share the process is to share potential success or potential failure in the making. And that is hard to do.

By | 2018-05-17T00:46:49+00:00 May 17th, 2018|Ramblings of a Researcher|Comments Off on True or False … stay tuned

When Stars Collide

A few paragraphs from my book, “When Stars Collide” (working title)

This is the realm of multimessenger astronomy, the amalgamation of instruments each designed to witness a cosmic event though a unique point of view. Not unlike seeing the human body from the outside, optical light refracting from clothing and skin, an x-ray image looks past the superficial to the inside. Add ultrasound, CAT, and fMRI and we have a multimessenger means to probe the interior as we do the vast exterior of the cosmos with telescopes.

[snip]

What makes astronomy so exciting is that while you anticipate one thing, you are often met by another. It is not that the laws of physics are being broken, rather that our understanding of the laws is being challenged and expanded. What we did not expect catches us off guard, keeps us humble, and reinforces a childlike sense of the mystery and magic of the incredibly vast universe in which we reside.

[snip]

Franco was annoyed that I had not kept up with the LIGO email lists, that we could not reflect on this together. I realized my mistake, for I had missed the live unfolding of something extraordinary. But what we didn’t know then was that just three days later there would be another detection event, this one a total game changer.

[snip]

This confirmed that the signal was real. It could be seen with an unaided human eye above the background noise in the data from both Hanford and Livingston. At that point, all skepticism disappeared and a chant erupted in the telecon chat: “Send the alert!” “Send the alert!” “Send the alert!”

The alert went out to hundreds of astronomical observatories around the world, partners who had for years waited for just such an opportunity. This started it all. This was the birth of multimessenger astronomy.

By | 2018-05-17T00:11:11+00:00 May 17th, 2018|The Written|Comments Off on When Stars Collide

10 steps to improved digital security

  1. A unique password for each on-line account or account groupings with a minimum of 8 alpha-numeric and non-standard characters that are not an explicit word or phrase. While you may have an incredible password, if it is the same across all of your accounts, a thief with immediate access to one of your other accounts has access to them all.
  2. Encrypt all data storage devices such that if your phone, tablet, or computer is stolen (assuming you were not logged in and active at that time), the data cannot be obtained even if the storage is removed from the device. Encrypt your SD card too, if supported, or do not move key apps and dadta onto the SD card.
  3. Enable remote locking of your phone so that if lost, it can be disabled.
  4. Do not install bank, PayPal, or investment apps on your phone, or do not auto-enter your account name and password. The chance of you losing or having your phone stolen is substantially higher than your laptop or desktop computer. And as your phone is always on-line, it is interrogated on a regular basis and therefore is more susceptible to a break-in.
  5. Use the Private Mode on your web browser for all financial transactions. Do not allow 3rd party cookies. Clear your browser cookies once a day, or worse case every week. Remember that in a non-private mode, when you move between websites your browsing history can be tracked by cookies, meaning companies know where you came from and where you will go next.
  6. Log out of every account you are not using, on your phone, laptop, and especially at a cafe.
  7. Use a cable tether from your phone to your laptop, not cyber cafe networks or open networks on city streets if you are at any point in time entering a username and password. Or use a Virtual Private Network (VNP) to secure the full connection, end-to-end.
  8. If you have the capability, create an email alias for every new on-line account, such that facebook@[your_domain_name].com and twitter@[your_domain_name].com are different from united_air@[your_domain_name].com or first_bank@[your_domain_name].com. This allows you to track who is selling your data and at the same time, keeps bots guessing as to what your login email address might be.
  9. Get your friends and co-workers to drop Hotmail and Yahoo! as these email systems are single-handedly responsible for the vast majority of spam. Every time an account is hacked, the bots harvest the address book and deliver its contents to massive databases sold to marketers.
  10. Never accept a broken or invalid security certificate. Never. A broken security certificate can be a sign of a man-in-the-middle attack or spoof in which your credentials are intercepted and stored for use by hackers.

Finally, read every End User License Agreement (EULA) before installing a new app on your phone. Use Uber? You might not if you knew how much of your life they have acquired: your full contact list, calendar, and every text message you send. Just because a company’s services are cool does not mean the company is cool with your data. You need only look at Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony to understand the effect of an open-ended EULA and associated privacy and distribution. As of May 25, the European Union implements the General Data Protection and Regulation (GDPR) policies which will change the way in which all international corporations manage client data.

Thank you Chris Murtagh for guiding me for the past two decades to maintain high quality server and personal computer security. Surely, the horrendous mistakes you have witnessed in your world of systems administration has saved me and others countless catastrophes.

By | 2018-04-28T15:21:39+00:00 April 24th, 2018|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on 10 steps to improved digital security

For a loss of words

I have all but lost my philosophy. It lingers, here and there, a remnant of its once prominent place in my daily routine. The words used to describe something deeper, a connection to more than the mundane are now missing from my vocabulary. I can discuss algorithms, programming paradigms, and the missing depth of themes in modern film, yet I feel next to nothing. That upwelling, that hidden source of power, angst and rhyme has eluded me for months at a time.

In daily conversation I find that what I say has almost no impact, not on me nor those with whom I speak. Just words. Just phrases. A kind of auto-complete. Yet inside there is a depth that has not been tapped since I departed South Africa in 2015 and moved back to the States. I seemed to have left that part of me behind that listens more than I do speak, contemplates more than I generate, and creates more than I mitigate.

Productive I remain, checking off items on my list every day. Yet closer to that which I desire … I remain at a distance for my goals are amorphous, ambiguous, and ever set to change. Only with a foundation set in philosophy, some undercurrent of constant flow and direction does everything I do carry the subtle underpinnings of a belief system, a philosophy of hope and change.

Maybe it is time to read the classics again, to be reminded of the words of those who have come before. I need to allow the stories, the poems, the rhymes of many generations to settle into me, to again become integrated into who I am such that when I speak, I speak with the depth and conviction not of a single entity, but of a whole.

It is time to read more, write more, sing more–to no longer fail for a loss of words.

By | 2018-03-25T16:42:33+00:00 March 25th, 2018|The Written|Comments Off on For a loss of words