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Posted (crates) in Evolution, Extinction on August-31-2009

    I was recently watching this TV program on black holes.  As usual when I contemplate such things, I became slightly depressed.

    When a star which is about three times or more the mass of our sun reaches the end of its life, it collapses and in the process blows out a great mass of matter and energy creating a supernova.  What is left behind is so incredibly dense that the gravitational field that it creates traps even light itself from escaping—the black hole.

     Black holes come in many sizes.  Sometimes they coalesce, creating even larger black holes.  The evidence is pretty conclusive that the center of most galaxies is occupied by massive black holes.

    The program showed computer simulations of galactic collisons and close encounters that spanned eons (see here for some simulations).  The billions of stars in each galaxy in these simulations resembled dust motes that swirled and rotated about each other creating fantastic shapes before settling down to some sort of stable configuration.  Here is one interesting quote concerning the movement of galaxies:

“Astronomers believe that all galaxies are embedded within massive and extended halos of dark matter, and that most large galaxies lie at the intersections of filaments of dark matter, which form a kind of gigantic web in our universe. Smaller satellite galaxies flow along strands of the web, and get pulled into orbit around large galaxies such as our Milky Way.”

It is speculated that a feeding frenzy occurs when large galaxies collide resulting in even more massive black holes.   It is believed that hundreds of thousands of smaller stellar black holes swarm about the massive galactic black hole subjecting the nearby star systems to a destruction derby which causes some stars to leave the galaxy entirely or causes it to fall into the massive center.

     Although our own Milky Way Galaxy has probably not consumed any large galaxies (smaller ones, yes :burp:), in about two billion years, Andromeda, our nearest large galaxy, and ours will begin to collide.  The massive black holes of each galaxy will coalesce to form one large super black hole that will consume incredible amounts of matter, igniting a new quasar.

   Now the thought of all this is totally fascinating in some respects.  The idea of billions of galaxies  inexorably following the laws of physics…matter and energy interacting in such spectacular ways fascinates and enthralls one’s imagination.

   But then my imagination swerves off on a tangent.  I think of the crowded galactic center, probably having large numbers of older stars than what is found out near the rim.  Many of these older solar systems very likely have life forms on their planets.  A certain small percentage, amounting to thousands when we consider these large numbers, very possibly supports intelligent life forms.

    I think of these intelligent beings contemplating their fate, watching their own star system begin it’s inexorable slide toward the maw of the great ravening beast at the galactic center.  I think of the panic, the frantic plans to save the race, possibly sending out colony ships.  I think of those left behind perhaps having the time to develop a philosophy of resignation to prepare themselves for the inevitible end. 

    I think of this happening thousands of times over the millions and billions of years that is involved in the process.   I think of these civilizations, unique in their outlook and philosophies…lost forever.

     And if this isn’t bad enough, I think of the implications.  I think of sentient beings living on  infitesimal motes of dust, coming into being, surviving and ultimately wending their way to extinction in a blind, uncaring universe of interacting energy and matter.

      Sometimes this is disturbing when I ponder upon it.  

     Then I begin to think of the relative nature of it all.  The life of man compared to the 14 billion year age of our universe, the almost four billion years that have passed since the origins of life on earth, the gradual evolution of life eventually resulting in me pondering such things.  

     And then moments like this morning as I walked through fog and mist, my face upturned, feeling the cool droplets on my face, listening to the foghorns and the sound of small birds in the forest through which I passed. 

     Perhaps we create our own caring, our own warm little niche in this universal howling wilderness.

    Thank the good Lord for  small things, I think…to heck with the long view.

Posted (crates) in Miscellaneous, Personal Stuff on August-18-2009

       I had an unusually uplifting experience yesterday–I was able to repair a defective coffee maker!   I purchased the Mr. Coffee back in June, and it has proved to be an excellent coffee brewer.  I have always had a favorable impression with this brand.  We have used it where I work for many years and have never had a single malfunction despite heavy use.  I also knew one person who always bought a Mr. Coffee brewer at Sears and who purchased the service contract at the same time.  He was a heavy coffee drinker and had the pot on just about every day all day.   With this heavy usage the heating element usually gave out after about a year or two, but he was always able to get a new coffee brewer from Sears for free because of the agreement.  He did this for many years.

     I just recently returned from my Texas hadj and tried brewing coffee last Friday for the first time.  I left the room and came back later to find that none of the coffee had gone into the pot!  Fortunately the coffee maker was in a wide tray and all the coffee had run out and collected in the tray.  Since I didn’t want to waste the coffee, and since I knew that I would spill the coffee if I attempted to lift the flexible plastic tray and pour it into the carafe, I got a straw and sucked the coffee up one straw full at a time and transferred it to the coffee pot until the level in the tray had gone down far enough so I could safely lift it without spilling it.

     Upon examination I found that there was a lever which was pushed back when the coffee pot was put onto the hot plate.  When pushed back, the lever pressed up against this valve which opened and allowed the coffee in the basket which contained the grounds to flow through.  The coffee flowed straight down which unfortunately caused it to flow down on the outside of the coffee pot instead of into it.

     After much experimentation I found that there was no way that the coffee could flow down into the pot.  It invariably flowed on the outside of the pot and then onto the countertop.    I found that coffee leaking out onto the counter top  seemed to be a common complaint with coffee brewers.  It was very frustrating since the coffee brewer had worked like a charm until it suddenly began to malfunction.

     Then I found this little plastic dohickey in the dish washer.  I couldn’t figure out where it had come from, until I finally figured out that it snapped up under the basket and the release valve.  It was a little plastic “chute” that directed the coffee into the center of the coffee pot as it was released from the basket holding the coffee grounds.  This was the reason that the coffee was running straight down along the side of the coffee pot; there was no chute that directed the coffee to the proper position!

     I snapped the chute into position and the Mr. Coffee brewer worked perfectly!  For some reason I felt unusually elated at this little triumph.  I had gone online the night before searching for a solution to no avail.  I had even dreamed about it, and almost dreaded getting up yesterday morning because I knew that I had to work on the danged thing and didn’t have a clue where to begin.

    I began to think of how small this little victory was compared to more significant achievements that might have been performed by my ancestors in the past:  “Hey look I made fire with a stick!”  “I scared the saber tooth away from the campfire last night!”  “I finished plowing the back forty with the old mule!”  “I skinned 14 buffalo yesterday!”   All this compared to: “I found the plastic dohickey that fixed the coffee maker!” 

    I don’t care…I still feel good about it!

P.S.  If you don’t understand what I said above perhaps this excerpt from Mr. Coffee, Inc. will clarify things: (http://www.patents.com/Mr-Coffee-Inc/Bedford-Heights/OH/1307733/company/).

“An electric coffee maker comprised of a housing, having structure defining a carafe receiving position and support means disposed above the carafe receiving position. A filter/brew funnel dimensioned to be supported by the support means above the carafe receiving position is provided to receive brewing particulate and brewing water. The filter/brew funnel includes an outlet port and valve means operable to pen and close the outlet port. The valve means include a valve, a valve lever supporting the valve, which lever is movable between a first position wherein the valve closes the outlet port and a second position wherein the valve is disposed away from the outlet port, and biasing means for biasing the valve lever toward the first position. An elongated actuator is pivotally mounted about a generally horizontal axis to the housing. The actuator includes an upper arm dimensioned to engage the valve lever when the brew funnel is supported by the support means and a lower end dimensioned to engage the side of a carafe position within the carafe receiving position. The actuator is biased by the biasing means of the valve means toward a first position wherein the lower end of the actuator is disposed within the space normally occupied by a carafe in the carafe receiving position.”