Knowledge for the millions


Image courtesy of University of Delaware

Whilst developing my Personal Almanac App I have been looking for useful calendar related information to include. Given that the iPhone carries an appointment calendar and alarms, there is nothing useful for me to add there. Having added sunrise and sunset, the phase of the moon, and the sidereal time, I added the three main Biorhythms. Some people find these useful as a diagnostic or predictor, some don’t. To help my users discover which group they fall into, or to do their own research I also added a logging facility so that you could track your own scores at any time and plot these. So far so straightforward. To progress further, I thought I would try Biodynamics. Unencumbered by any proper knowledge in this area, it looked to me to be an interesting area. After all if the moon affects the tides, might it not affect the movement of fluids in the roots, stems and cells of plants, and given their sensitivity to light and day/night length might not the nights with significant moonlight have some effect on growth? It seemed reasonable not to disregard it out of hand. It also seemed to dovetail well with the purpose of the App, to provide ephemera pertinent to the day. So I set out to divine the algorithms for planting, taking cuttings, pruning etc. so I could provide a helpful “Today is a good day for …” page for gardeners. And that’s when the wheels came off.

In an area as universal as Agriculture, with a history as long as settled civilisations clearly any system or process which provided even a minor comparative advantage would surely be properly researched, documented and in widespread use. There would also be some science. You can always tell when there is science as there is detail freely available (Even for drugs in patent but perhaps not for munitions and such), of tests done, results achieved, replication by others and some diagnostic and prognostic tools. (Otherwise you might as well ask an economist or an intellectual). For Biodynamics and its affiliates there isn’t. There are books, courses and calendars you can buy, but no published algorithms for calculating or intuiting the best time to plant root crops or similar. Discounting the groups with more than a hint of Astrology and fairy dust, the long standing groups share no details. It’s like a medieval guild with knowledge hoarded and sold, never shared. tested improved upon etc. Lots of people (Who appear otherwise to be people whose opinions you might trust) seem sold on it and there are any number of Vineyards and local Market Gardeners who say they wouldn’t work any other way, but no detail as to how they go about it. Now I don’t know about you but that alone is enough to put me off. Clearly these people care very much about what they do and what they produce but how can we tell whether their success is due to assiduous preparation and application of the prescribed Biodynamic potions and processes, or just that they obviously care enough to try, and work hard and attentively and that’s what yields the results. So I came to two conclusions :-

  • I wouldn’t include any Biodynamics stuff in the App but I may include some old traditional planting and cropping stuff, and
  • If you have to pay to see it, it probably isn’t based on science.

As a final thought from what I perceive as a similar area :-

If the water which is soaked into the sugar pill in a Homeopathic remedy remembers its original tincture even after a dilution equivalent to a drop placed into the Atlantic, does London tap water have memories of the previous six sets of kidneys it has passed through?

The Emperor’s Nose

Good Eh?

 

The Emperor’s Nose is a story Richard Feynman tells in one of his books, as I remember it, as an illustration of how Governments work. I am paraphrasing from memory so may not get it quite right, but since the importance of stories (and the amount of repeat telling) is not dependant on whether they are true, but whether they ought to be true, this will do for now.

As I have it, at some time in the past in Imperial China a town wished to demonstrate its loyalty to the greater glory of China by erecting a statue of the Emperor. When it came to sculpting the face, however the sculptor was stumped. The Emperor lived in the Forbidden City and no-one from outside was allowed in to see him. Similarly no-one from inside the Forbidden City was allowed out. (The following generalisation was not considered problematically racist when Feynman told the story, but doubtless may be for some as I tell it today, sorry but it’s only a story). The sculptor believed he could make a fair job of the face as Chinese faces tend to similarity, except for the length of the nose. He therefore asked the townsfolk how this could be resolved. Now as we have established, no-one could speak to anyone who had actually seen the Emperor, so the townsfolk decided to ask everybody in the town what they thought was the length of the Emperor’s nose and average the result.

Feynman’s point was that if something isn’t known, just asking a large number of people who don’t know shares the responsibility about should a problem occur, but is unlikely to produce a correct answer except by pure dumb  luck.

This story remembered itself to me as I was trying to add a sidereal time page to an App I am working on. Sidereal time is time measured from Earth with reference to the stars rather than just with reference to our Sun (Normal time). To find out how to work out the sidereal time for the App’s user (Who has an iPod touch or iPhone so we know their latitude and longitude), I did a bit of Googling. It transpired that, as always, there were endless references to follow up, many with explanations of how to calculate it. This turned out to be rather like working on the synoptic gospels, in other words lots of people has just copied from someone else. Some of the base sources had Algorithms to crib, but these were invariably in a programming language I don’t know well enough to reliably transcribe. Having checked WikiPedia, which was good on background but I didn’t trust for the maths, I ended up with the US Navy website which has exemplary clarity and apparent authority. Here, I suspect, was someone who had met the Emperor and could describe his nose to me. The App now corresponds exactly with the two websites I have found which give you an immediate sidereal time for a given latitude. Lots more testing needed for verification in different timezones and with and without Daylight Saving Time.

Forward to the past

 

Personal Almanac in 1970s mode

 

One of the Apps I’m currently working on is another Retro App to go with the Print-O-Calc ones. These are Apps that attempt to reproduce something that could / should have existed in the past, but didn’t because to make them would have been technically impossible or prohibitively expensive. Now that smart phones have moved from the realms of executive jewellery to the hand of pretty much anyone who wants one enough, there is a real chance to simulate such devices and sell them for pennies.

This one is a Personal Almanac which shows sunrise & sunset times for wherever you are (Or wherever you pick from Google Earth), and the current phase of the moon.

In addition it shows a biorhythm chart if you tell it your birthdate, and I’m now working on some BioDynamic stuff to add for gardeners and growers.

Anything else I can think of which may be fun and/or useful I will add as they occur to me although I do draw the line at Horoscopes. I’m currently thinking of “Thoughts for the Day”, “On this day in history”, “A new word a day” type stuff which I shall probably grab into the App daily from existing websites to keep it fresh and interesting.

Any suggestions would be most welcome at suggest@become-apps.com .

WordFoto

WordFoto processed image

As the two Apps I’m currently working draw towards completion, I had an idle moment the other day and took a look at the App store. As I was starting to draw the artwork for startup screens and the website for the Lifemodel App, I thought I’d look at art and photography apps. The one that first caught my eye was WordFoto. You point it at a photo or picture on your camera roll, give it the text you want to use, and it produces wonderful images using the text to make and contrast the shapes.

Highly recommended for what it’s worth.