Sunday, November 5, 2023

So...What Happened?

Wow.  It's been over eight years since I last posted here...

When I stepped back in August 2015, I thought it would be for a few weeks, maybe a few most.

I have received a few inquiries as to what happened. Where did I go?  What did I do?

Initially there were three primary drivers for the hiatus, but the problems grew from there.  

 1) First was what I considered as a case of 'burnout', working a full-time technical job combined with the effort here, was demanding.  I had also completed a number of projects and was trying to solve some issues with future projects in my queue.

2) There were also some projects where I wanted to try out some new tools to present more sophisticated visuals on my website.  Learning which new tools would be best, and how to use them, takes time.  Blender and other tools were considered for generating more video content for my work - but steep learning curves and not-quite-what-I-need functionality issues created challenges - and therefore delays.  Interactive worksheets using iPython or Jupyter notebooks were also explored, but there were web support challenges there.  And since I did that initial survey of possible tools, about half the them I examined have either radically changed or are no longer supported.  It adds up to a lot of lost time.

3) Then there were recent studies (at the time) suggesting that the work I was doing was totally ineffective, that anyone going over my work, instead of being persuaded, would 'dig in'  and more aggressively defend their pseudoscience.  This behavior was called the 'backfire effect'.  While I was certainly having an amount of fun exploring these off-beat ideas, was I actually doing any good with this project?

The 'backfire' effect had been subsequently difficult to confirm, but it did raise a number of issues about the how one approaches these types of projects to make them more effective.  And I realized that I did not handle some conflicts on this blog as effectively, and gracefully, as I should have...

One of the positive situations that interfered with my ability to return to this project was that the particle simulation code which I originally wrote to support this project

actually became a useful tool for my day job, mostly using the electromagnetic particle propagation options.  This resulted in me spending a lot of time outside of work coding and testing different configurations of interest for some work projects, which meant less time for projects for here.

But the delays created by the issues above gave time for the single most problematic issue to come to the fore.   The hardware and software which I used for collecting, analyzing, organizing and annotating research papers used to back up ideas presented here, which had worked so well together, underwent changes which significantly hindered their interoperability and crippled my workflow.  One program that used to transfer metadata and files easily between laptop (main collection and work area) to tablet (reading and note-taking) became a problem due to changes in the programs, and changes in the OS, that would force transfers through a cloud service instead of a direct cable connection.  This issue persisted until eventually changes in the OS prevented one of the programs from running at all, and the developer had stopped updating the project.

Considering that the notes I kept in these files included ideas not just for debunking pseudo-science claims, but ideas for everything from real-science research projects, science-fiction stories to possibly patentable ideas, this was not something I wanted to have on a cloud server.  Vendor claims of cloud security were not very comforting when looking at the actual history and some personal experiences.  Then there's the statements in vendor license agreements of only sharing their customer data with 'designated partners', which enables a load of sins for scraping your data for the use by others, from surveillance to AI training and maybe things we haven't even thought of yet.

Frustrated by the decreasing level of control I had over my own work and data I had on Apple platforms, when my l needed to replace my older machines, I switched to Linux on Intel.  Some system management aspects are more difficult than they were under Apple, but at least I have more control over my data.

I eventually found a bibliography package (JabRef) that could reproduce much of the functionally I had in the original BibDesk software, and a Python module (bibtexparser) that could aid in the conversion.  However it takes considerable effort to port my existing bibliography files to the new system, identifying and revising specialized tags, fixing font incompatibilities, revising links in the file system, etc.  It is still a work in progress.  Then there were years of notes collected in Journlr that had intermediate notes and drafts for specific topics, tagged and organized.  ZimWiki seems to be the closest tool for porting this data but that is in an even earlier stage of progress.

Then there's the other changes in personal life that impacts ones free time for other projects, such as grand-parenting and the pandemic lock-down.

So what's next?

Good question...

I still have a lot of crank astronomy demonstrations in states of partial completion and I really want to get back to them.  And with some newer hardware (which is getting to the point I may need to upgrade again) I have faster processing for some compute-intensive projects, including GPU-accelerated numerical processing!

A number of my write-ups on the blogger site are in reasonable condition but many links have been broken as referenced sites have changed their web organization and either deleted or moved the references linked.  I need to update several references areas, like blogs, podcasts, and reading list.  I have seriously considered reworking these posts into more of a textbook format, maybe with exercises for students, available stand-alone, for use by teachers and interested amateurs.

In my time away from regular posting, much has been published on the psychology of pseudo-scientific beliefs.  I've had the opportunity of exploring this as well as some of the theological, philosophical, and, yes, political aspects of pseudoscience - how it costs societies and individuals.  Much of this is related to some of my own personal experiences.  I'll definitely be writing up some of that, which might annoy some readers (assuming it's something other than search-bots are left visiting my site).

So, I expect to return.  In addition to regular fixes, there is a chance this site may undergo some reorganization, and even move.

Now, where was I, and what's next...

So...What Happened?

Wow.  It's been over eight years since I last posted here... When I stepped back in August 2015,...