“My Daddy Killed Pluto”


 

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A year or so ago, I was lecturing in my graduate seminar in epistemology. To illustrate a point, I brought up the recent fate of the ninth planet—Pluto. This was spontaneous. I hadn’t thought about the example before. But I knew that astronomers/astrophysicists had determined that Pluto was not, after all, a planet.

“How was it decided that Pluto was not a planet?” I wondered out loud. One possibility is that our scientists, working with a definite conception of what makes a planet a planet, had discovered that the stellar object we call “Pluto” does not satisfy the conditions for being a planet. Hence, it had to be demoted from planetary status to something else—an “ice ball,” perhaps.

Alternatively, our scientists may have known of Pluto’s properties and recently decided that the concept of a planet should be refined. With a refined conception of planethood, it would turn out that Pluto could no longer be considered a planet.

Which of these is the actual story? Did scientists discover something about Pluto that violated the standard conception of planethood, or did scientists revise their concept of planethood, knowing that Pluto’s claim to planethood would thereby be precluded?

I didn’t know the answer to the question at the time, my knowledge of the demoted status of Pluto being embarrassingly anecdotal. I was less embarrassed, though, when I asked a physicist acquaintance if he knew the answer. He didn’t.

So what is the answer?

Mike Brown, astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, narrates the answer in his recent book How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming. The Amazon page for this book includes “A Letter from Author Mike Brown” that recounts the author’s PR problem with his own daughter. “Daddy,” she said to him, “I know you had to kill Pluto, but will you promise me one thing?” He told her that he would. To find out what she asked him to promise, visit this page.

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Trailer for Biola Student Film “Lockhaven”


In November, I posted a link to the trailer for a Biola student film featuring my daughter Erin. Today, the trailer for a new student film was released, this time featuring Erin’s older sister, Kaitlyn. The film, called “Lockhaven,” is Kaitlyn’s debut in the Action/Thriller genre. Here’s a link. The film is directed by Kyle Chezum.

"Lockhaven" Film Trailer (2011)

The Perils of Multiculturalism


British Prime Minister David Cameron

One of the most important speeches of the year—and it’s only February now—was delivered by British Prime Minister David Cameron a few days ago at the Munich Security Conference. In his speech he focused, in laser-beam fashion that is unusual for a politician, on the perils of multiculturalism. I urge you to read or view his speech.

Cameron links “Islamist extremism” to the “British experience” of multiculturalism, and argues that, if only for security purposes, multiculturalism must be reversed in his country.

Here are a few questions we all should be considering:

  1. What is “multiculturalism”?
  2. What’s the difference between multiculturalism and a policy of multiculturalism?
  3. Does Great Britain have a policy of multiculturalism? Does the United States?
  4. What are the virtues of multiculturalism?
  5. What are the perils of multiculturalism?
  6. Should the British government halt multiculturalism?
  7. Can the British government halt multiculturalism?

I’m especially interested in two other questions:

  1. How are you affected by multiculturalism?
  2. Do you agree with David Cameron’s general position on the issue?

Update:

This post was referenced in the “Roundup for Week 7” at the The Naked Listener’s Weblog. Thanks, Robert Lee, for the notice!

Amazon Deal on iHome iH51


I don’t have an iHome. I’ve never used one. But it looks like a good device for producing quality sound from an iPhone or iPod and for use as a pleasant alarm clock. The iH51 is on a 47% discount for the next few hours at Amazon here, as long as they last.

Do you recommend this device?

I guess it’s possible that the i51 is about to be replaced by a new model. And that would raise questions about compatibility with the very latest Apple iTunes units, or forthcoming iPhones, iPods, and iPads.

For a 2008 review of the iH51, check this post at iLounge.

Temporary Facelift to Doug’s Blog


A couple of days ago I posted about the appearance of this blog and invited readers to comment on what could be improved. Thanks to all of you who responded. As you can see, I am making dramatic changes. But this “new look” is temporary. I’ve been working on an entirely new webpage design that I hope to unveil soon.

Stayed tuned!

Eternally Vexing Words


The Apathy of a Cow

I have several dictionaries, some at home and some at my office. The one I consult with the greatest satisfaction is The New Merriam-Webster Dictionary of 1989. I recommend Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (available at a stunning discount at Amazon just now).

I also like the Merriam-Webster website. And one thing I like best is their “Top 10 Lists” feature. Today they presented the “Top 10 Words for Valentine’s Day”—not synonyms for “Valentine’s Day,” but words with special significance on this day of love, romance, and infatuation (three of the words on their list).

These “Top 10 Lists” follow a pattern. The word entry includes by a definition or two. Then there’s an example of the word in use, or a little background about the word—sometimes both. Each word entry is accompanied by a graphic, usually a photograph. This is an interesting element. I often wonder how the picture came to be associated with the particular word they are defining.

What do you suppose are the words most searched for on merriam-webster.com? Well, they have a “Top 10 Most Frequently Searched Words on M-W.com”—of course.

Here’s the list of “eternally vexing words”:

#1: Pretentious

#2: Ubiquitous

#3: Love

#4: Cynical

#5: Apathetic

#6: Conundrum

#7: Albeit

#8: Ambiguous

#9: Integrity

#10: Affect/Effect

Obviously, these words vex for different reasons. Item #10 is a pair of words that are easily confused with each other. Hence the need to consult a dictionary. The meanings for two of the words, “love” and “integrity,” seem clear enough. But maybe they’re looked up because they are words for abstract concepts of traits that matter deeply to us. The rest may simply be words whose meaning is easily forgotten, or words used with remarkable frequency given the comparative minority of English-speakers who actually know what they mean.

I’m intrigued by the choice of graphic for the word “cynical” on this list. The pic choice for “apathetic” is fun-clever. And why they have a photo of three YAs looking at a laptop screen for the word “conundrum” is a conundrum for me.

When learning a list of new words, it can be good practice to use them all together in a few sentences that form a short and coherent paragraph.

For example:

Pretentious people love to sprinkle their conversation with large words—or I should say, with unfamiliar, albeit short, words. The cynical person may note that ambiguous words are ubiquitous among the most pretentious pontificators, who affect apathy about the effect of their speech and, so doing, compromise their integrity. It’s a conundrum.

* * *

For the word enthusiast: If you’ve checked the link for the word “cynical” here, what do you think explains the choice of image to go with that word?

Does This Blog Need a New Look?


I’ve been blogging here now for nearly three years. So it’s time to ask, Does this blog need a new look?

I want to hear from you . . .

  • if you’ve ever thought, “This site looks _________,” where the blank is filled in with some expression of disappointment, disapproval, or disgust;
  • if you’ve ever thought, more vaguely, “Why in the world did Geivett create this look for himself?”
  • if you can recommend improvements in the look or organization of this site;
  • if you think it looks just fine and should be left alone.

No one has ever said, “You need to change the look of your website.” On the other hand, no one has ever told me, “Wow! You have such a brilliant looking website! I’m so jealous.”

So how about it, friends? What improvements can you suggest?

If I don’t hear from you, I’ll have to assume that you like it just the way it is.

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