APS News

Letters

Physics is Not Always a Benefit to Mankind

Considering that we physicists pride ourselves for being precise, I was surprised to read the amendment to the APS charter in Charles Schwartz's letter. Surprised because the new wording is obviously false. "Understanding of the nature of the physical universe", and knowledge in general, has historically not always been used as a "benefit to all humanity". A belief otherwise is simply naive. The power of knowledge, and the responsibility that comes with it, has been a central theme in many of our culture's stories, from the Garden of Eden to Frankenstein. Nevertheless, I am not an advocate of "ignorance is bliss" and still believe in the "advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics".

Dan Durkin, Graduate Student
UC Berkeley


I support Charles Schwartz (APS News, April 1998) that the American Physical Society should abstain from having explicit faith-like and futurological statements in key policy documents. Such claims not only ridiculous as such but mislead general public about the inherent constrains of our profession.

Alexander A. Berezin
McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada


Comment on: Why God Never Received a PhD

What is the rationale or the justification of the material under the rubic of Zero Gravity in the April 1998 issue of APS News? The title indicates a jest; but to some members it is not appropriate to refer to the Creator and sustainer of the universe in this offensive manner. I have been personally acquainted with God through His Son for well over three quarters of a century. He is the source of everything good in my life, and I owe Him total allegiance. Therefore I protest strongly this libel against Him. Its author expresses opinions beyond his professional competence.

Edson R. Peck, Emeritus Professor of Physics
University of Idaho


Fact or "Netmyth"?

I think the netmyth stories are generally delightful. I don't believe them, but they are great stories. Here's one for you that I think is actually quite old.

A group of 4 soldiers had dismantled a chimney on top of a two story building. The bricks were piled onto a 4 foot square board attached to a sling with a rope that went over a pulley extending from the roof. One man went down and held onto the rope while the other three pushed the load of bricks off the roof. Since the bricks weighed about 800 pounds, the 150 pound man at the bottom was pulled up when he refused to let go of the rope. He was bashed by the board on his way up (the bricks way down) and ended up crashing into the pulley on the roof. When the bricks hit the ground they scattered, leaving the 150 pound soldier supported, or not supported, by a 30 pound board at the ground. So, he came down and the board went up, naturally bashing him again on the way. When the soldier hit the ground he let go of the rope and, of course, the board came back down and hit him on the head.

Probably not a true story, but who cares? It's a good tale.

Jon Orloff
University of Maryland


I just read your article about Netmyths, and I thought you might be interested in the following "news story" I received a couple of days ago. I doubt it's true, since I'd heard this as a joke 15 years ago. This is the transcript of an ACTUAL radio conversation of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995. Radio conversation released by the Chief of Naval Operations 10-10-95.
Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a Collision.
Canadians: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.
Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.
Americans: THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES' ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH, THAT'S ONE FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER-MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.
Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.

Horst Severini
Ohio University


The netmyth I wish someone would put to bed is the idea that there can be an e-mail message, recognizable by its subject line, that will fill up your hard disk with nonsense if you read it. This message never specifies which platform or operating systems are susceptible, proving that the warning can't be for real. But if we define a virus as being any computer file that exploits a weakness in the computer system to propagate itself, the warning is itself the virus that infects all platforms and operating systems. The weak point? Credulous users.

Joe Straley
University of Kentucky


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